How 5G Solves the New Status Quo of Supply Chain Challenges

Common asset tracking solutions no longer cut it.

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The supply chain crisis, sparked by the pandemic and fueled by a stream of events from the Suez Canal blockage to the current war in Ukraine, is showing no signs of burning out soon. Instead, organizations across the globe are coming to terms with how to maintain business operations despite the ongoing challenges. Experts have recently predicted that supply chain issues are set to continue for at least another two years, meaning that as challenging as it is, this is the new status quo and businesses need to adapt accordingly to deal with it. 

The Challenges in a Nutshell 

Part of the challenge of this crisis is that it does not simply impact one element of the supply chain, but the entire end-to-end operation. Manufacturing issues and order backlogs are followed by port logjams and greater restrictions on cross-border movement, with the added difficulty of human resourcing issues. The result is that hurdles at each point in the supply chain are compounded by issues at the next stage making it impossible to predict the full impact, as the situation is constantly moving. This means real-time, everywhere monitoring is more important than ever before, to keep track of valuable assets and provide accurate tracking information to businesses and end customers. 

No Longer Fit for Purpose

Commonly used asset tracking solutions that were suitable when supply chain logistics were largely predictable no longer cut it when we look at current needs. Location technologies such as GPS, Cell-ID, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have served the logistics industry in the past. However, these technologies are no longer fit for purpose and their shortcomings are being thrown further into sharp relief by these added supply chain pressures. 

Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) technologies like GPS are currently the most common form of asset tracking. They tick the box for delivering outdoor visibility but tracking indoors, on the back of trucks and in dense urban areas, is not possible. With the need for real-time, everywhere visibility now absolutely critical, GPS no longer presents a viable option for asset tracking, with limited battery life and patchy coverage in built-up areas adding to the unsuitability of this solution. 

What about Wi-Fi? Well, it works to an extent, but along with options like Bluetooth, it has limitations. Indoors and with the appropriate additional infrastructure it works, but it is not fit for purpose when assets leave the warehouse or are packed into containers on cargo ships for example. With an unpredictable supply chain, full visibility at every stage of the journey is paramount. The lack of Wi-Fi ubiquity, plus low security, means that although there is a place for Wi-Fi asset tracking, it is not a stand-alone solution that can serve the chain end-to-end. 

These are two technologies that exemplify the issues with many of the current asset tracking options – high power consumption, low accuracy, added complexity and cost, security issues and a drain on the battery life of IoT tracking devices. This means that not only are they unable to deliver the tracking accuracy required in the current climate, but their weaknesses are more likely to exacerbate than solve the crisis. So, what is the answer?

Visibility Everywhere

The same principle of location technology is what is needed, but it must work differently and leverage new innovations to deal with the extent of supply chain disruption. The core business aim for asset tracking is to have access to continuous, real-time information to inform both their decisions and their customers to offset the negative effects of the disruption. There is a level of universal understanding that there are supply chain challenges, but the businesses that can react to mitigate the effect and keep end customers informed will feel a much lesser impact than those who don’t. 

To deliver continuous asset tracking fit for this new era, the solution must be one that is designed with the concept of delivering visibility everywhere in mind, throughout a product’s journey in the supply chain. This is where Cloud Location over Cellular (C-LoC) technology comes in, which takes advantage of the ubiquity of mobile connectivity. 

Cloud-Based Cellular Location as an Answer

Cloud-based cellular location uses 4G and 5G networks, in combination with roaming integrated into a Wide Area Network (macro network), to deliver that connectivity everywhere element that is crucial for global supply chains. It gives organizations a single solution that starts by providing address-level accuracy wherever an asset travels globally, indoors and out, followed by providing sub-meter accuracy on the factory floor leveraging 5G private networks to ensure complete visibility across the entire supply chain. 

Cloud-based cellular location technologies are already in use today and adoption is expected to surge over the next four years. According to ABI Research, overall penetration of the cloud-based cellular location installed base will reach 42% by 2026. In this period, it expects to see a four-fold increase in penetration driven largely by devices on existing Cat-1, Cat-M, and NB-IoT cellular networks, and asset tracking will be the main driver of growth on these networks. 

It is certainly a positive review of the technology, and organizations considering this approach to asset tracking will be reassured by the anticipated adoption rates of cloud-based cellular location technologies. However, for businesses to see the maximum return on investment into this technology, the time to adopt is now. It has the potential to make a significant, tangible difference to the supply chain, allowing immediate responses to mitigate issues before they cause further disruption, and keeping customers informed to improve satisfaction. 

The supply chain issues affecting businesses today can no longer be seen as a temporary “blip” but are instead a long-term challenge that they need to find ways of dealing with. Being able to share real-time asset tracking data with customers may previously have been seen as a “nice to have,” but now it is an essential tool required by businesses to tackle supply chain disruption and offset its impact on their operations. It must be part of a strategic decision to add flexibility and resiliency to supply chains and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. By taking this approach, organizations will not only be best placed to weather the disruption expected over the next few years but will enhance and strengthen business operations for years to come. 

Ed Chao is the CEO of Polte.

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