These days, it is rare for a customer to purchase a product online or over the phone and not immediately begin receiving updates about its shipment. Customers have come to expect a high level of information about shipping — and as a result, companies need to invest in shipment tracking tools and services to stay on top of shipping developments and keep customers happy.
Fortunately, businesses have some choice when it comes to which technologies to use in shipment tracking. Here are the seven available tools and systems for knowing where shipments are:
Typically abbreviated to RFID, radio frequency identification is one of the oldest forms of wireless communication — but it has only just begun adoption as a tool for shipment tracking in the past decade. RFID tends to be among the most affordable shipment tracking tech, though it does require the integration of RFID systems into the shipping process. RFID tags can be temporary or permanent attachments to packages which are activated when scanned by an RFID reader at certain locations along a delivery route.
Another simple and relatively low-tech shipment tracking option, radio tracking involves using transceivers on vehicles or within shipped packages to track the movement of goods during transit. Unlike RFID tags, which are only activated when near a reader with an external power source, radio tracking requires shipments to have a power source installed. This increases the range at which radio signals can be detected — and it increases the cost of the tracking tools, too. Radio tracking is not particularly common in shipping as there are other more accurate and more affordable options for this application.
Related to RFID, near-field communication (NFC) allows for two-way communication between devices that are close in proximity — within four inches of one another. Though highly accurate, inexpensive and energy-efficient, NFC is limited to use in warehouses and other shipping locations that are indoors and equipped with NFC terminals. Still, this can provide enough information to keep shippers and customers abreast of shipping progress.
Geofencing is a tracking technology that involves setting a perimeter around a designated location. If an object moves inside or outside that perimeter, the system will send a notification to interested parties, like the shipper, the carrier or the customer. In shipping, geofencing can be used to passively track important packages as they come and go from key destinations, but some members of the supply chain might also use geofencing to track vehicles and personnel around their facilities. Geofencing can rely on either RFID technology or GPS.
This tracking technology has exceedingly specific applications: to track internet-connected devices, like laptops or smartphones. Internet tracking is integrated directly into the device’s BIOS and is activated only when certain settings are accessed through the BIOS menu. Once active, internet tracking settings allow the device to continuously send location data to central servers, so users can see where the device is and hopefully retrieve it without issue. Conceivably, shippers could use a similar system to track valuable internet-connected equipment as it travels through the shipping process, but this is a rare tracking tool to find in shipping.
When cellphones send and receive data, they are communicating with nearby cell towers. Towers can track the strength of the signals they receive, and using this information, service providers and other authorities can develop a general idea of the location of the mobile device. Again, this tracking method may not be the most useful in shipping applications, unless a shipper is sending activated mobile devices that are continuously sending data. If no other forms of tracking are available, cellphone triangulation can help carriers and shippers better understand the location of certain goods.
Global Positioning Systems and Satellite Tracking
The global positioning system (GPS) is one of the most well-known and most popular types of tracking technology. GPS tools are tracked around the globe through a series of satellites, which can accurately identify the location of GPS-ready devices to within a few meters. In most cases, shipping vehicles are outfitted with GPS tech, and shipments are linked to the vehicles carrying them, so shippers and customers can receive updates about shipping progress. However, it is possible for shippers to integrate GPS trackers into their packaging to ensure complete visibility over their goods during transit.
Carriers, shippers and customers alike benefit from knowing more about where shipments are. Fortunately, there are a variety of tracking tools — from affordable and accessible to sophisticated and expensive — to provide more information about where packages are and when they will arrive safely.