The Container Owners Association published a ‘Guide to Container Tracking and Telematics Technology’, providing container operators, leasing companies and other interested stakeholders with an overview of the technology issues that they might experience, and the choices that are available to them.
The Guidelines provide a background of the way that the industry has developed over the last 10 years. The evolution from ‘wired’ to ‘wireless’ has provided great opportunities, but it also led to important complexity, due to the wide range of communication technologies available, how they are used around the world in different countries and communication issues with containers on vessels.
In addition, the Guidelines cover some of the issues for tracking dry freight containers, including aspects like:
- Data flow;
- Required communication frequency;
- Battery life and installation cost;
- Power consumption;
- Sensor technology requirements;
- Compatibility with vessel partners.
‘Basic’ Dry Van Communication Issues
As dry vans are not connected to power, a key decision is to whether to equip a simple RFID device only reliant on sending back basic data to an RFID reader, or a more sophisticated device which has its own power, normally from a battery.
A simple RFID tag can now be reduced to an adhesive printed circuit little thicker than a standard decal and there are projects to allow these tags to enable more information than just the container serial number.
A device using a battery – or solar power – can record and communicate more data, like an impact to the container, if the door has been opened or temperature as well as the identification details of the container.
These will need a small box and attachment to the exterior of the container in a position which limits possible damage risk.
Simple RFID tags will have only a small cost and can be fitted quickly and economically. Powered devices will be more costly to purchase and install.
However, dry vans and reefers have different requirements. Specifically, with reefers:
- Access to power keeps data module active under power or batteries;
- Perishable nature of cargo means larger range of data and frequency;
- 2-way communication is likely in many cases to enable setting changes, PTI instruction, etc;
- Power consumption of the module can be higher enabling a wider range of transmission technologies.
Landside and inland operation
Operators must list the countries where the reefers will operate, and then evaluate the range of communication options this will require.
The data size transmitted for reefers is small in relation to the graphics rich/video requirements for consumer smart phones. This enables use of all the cellular transmission generations (2G through to 5G) and data connection to take place successfully, even if signals are relatively weak. However, coverage is not uniform across countries and it is possible that important areas of operation of the reefers may be in poor or zero coverage areas.
Furthermore, while there are international protocols on the technology of each generation, the availability of each generation (2G, 3G, 4G, etc) will vary between countries.
Moreover, the report covers API (Application Programming Interface). The Guidelines explain that this must be integrated and agreed across the industry to make sure that data can be transmitted by any hardware provider and provide the same standardised information to data users, which is a project that the COA is currently working on.
Detailed evaluation work will be required by the vessel and container operator before finalising the specification of a workable wireless data solution for a reefer or dry van fleet
the Container Owners Association said.
What is more, because of the variety of communication technologies that will need to be considered, operators of reefers will need to consider the capabilities of products being offered by different telematics suppliers to see which systems are more suitable.
They should also analyze what options conference and partner shipping lines are using and whether alternative systems are also compatible. Finally, operators will need to consider API issues between differing systems to make sure greater flexibility exists, as well as lower costs of operation over the long term.
For ocean transit, there is no access to land-based cellular networks. Creating a vessel-based LAN can be achieved by installing a transmission base station which can provide vessel-wide coverage. Some available technologies cannot be used in inshore waters if they are using a frequency band which is part of licensed spectrum. These technologies can only be used in the open ocean and must be turned off when in coastal waters.
Suitable technologies include Wi-Fi, LoRa, BT, Zigbee, CAT-M1 or NB-IOT technology. The vessel communication technology must be able to communicate with containers underdeck and may require signal boosters. It also needs to be compatible with the API of multiple telematics hardware vendors used by the industry where the ship is carrying containers from other shipping lines and alliance partners. The data can be aggregated on the vessel for reefer monitoring by the crew where needed.
This data can be transmitted to cloud or data centres by normal vessel communication links, and as this is expensive, low-latency, packet-switched, compressed data is more preferred.
Explore more in the following PDF