Automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems typically use the cellular data network to transmit information. Determining which cellular technology to use for your AVL system is an important decision in the planning process. The newest cellular technology available to AVL systems is Long-Term Evolution (LTE), also referred to as 4G. There is no question that LTE modems are faster and can carry more data, but the improvements come with increased costs. 3G systems are still widely used and, depending on the nature of your application and its expected life cycle, it may make more sense to choose 3G rather than LTE.
Making the Decision—Where to Start
When you are trying to decide which cellular system to specify, it’s best to start by analyzing how your AVL system will be using the data. If your primary goal is to track vehicles and obtain engine information, then a 3G connection is all you need. If the vehicles are accessing websites or pulling down data, then a faster connection such as LTE may make sense.
Network Life Span Considerations
Some organizations fear that the 3G networks will eventually be retired and that 3G devices will no longer work. But, is this a valid fear? Upgrading to LTE from 3G may seem like a way to “future proof” your company’s devices, but it’s only a temporary fix. The next generation of networks that will replace LTE is already being developed and at some time in the future 5G will replace 4G.
Additionally, even if the retirement of the 3G network is officially announced, it will be years before the system is deactivated. For example, when the 2G system was decommissioned, users received three years’ notice and were provided ample time to plan for a transition.
Using Wi-Fi Through the Cellular Modem
In seeking ways to lower cellular network costs, some service-related companies decided to utilize in-vehicle Wi-Fi modems as a way to allow field workers with tablets to use Wi-Fi inside the vehicle. While this sounded like an excellent idea, in reality, many times it did not work. The worker would be inside the customer’s house, need to look up a part number, and try to access the Wi-Fi in the vehicle. It was not uncommon that they had to go back outside to access the network, thus decreasing their productivity. With the additional concerns about data security, this solution has diminished in acceptance by many organizations. However, if employees spend most of the day near the vehicle, a Wi-Fi solution could make sense. It’s important to evaluate how employees will utilize the data when making a decision.
Cellular Contract Considerations
When exploring cellular options, it’s important to know who “owns” the cellular contract. Many companies include the cellular solution with their AVL solution. Often, a business entity will have a corporate agreement that enables the business to receive volume pricing on wireless services through its preferred provider. In these situations, it may be in the customer’s best interest to utilize its preferred carrier, rather than the wireless service provided by the AVL provider. The additional volume generated via the AVL system could drive the customer’s overall cellular prices even lower. When selecting an AVL provider, it is important that the customer specify if it will provide the wireless service itself, or if the vendor has the option to include the wireless service in its pricing plan.
- Many AVL systems use cellular data to transmit information
- The newest cellular technology that AVL systems are using is LTE
- There is no question that LTE modems and data are better
- But the improvements come with increase cost
- 3G systems are still widely used and depending on the nature of your application it may make more sense to use 3G vs. LTE
- Don’t assume that you need the latest and greatest just because that tis what’s available
Network Lifespan Considerations
- The fear many companies have is that the 3G networks will eventually be depreciated and that their devices will stop working
- Choosing LTE over 3G can be a way to “future proof” the device but it’s only a temporary fix
- The next generation of networks that will replace LTE are being developed
- So you’re only buying a few years
- Even if the 3G network is officially depreciated it will be years before the system is turned off
- When the 2G system was decommissioned there were three years of notices
Where to Start
- The best thing to do is start with what you need the system to do
- Get a very clear understanding of how your AVL system will be using the data
- If your primary goal is to track vehicles and obtain engine information then a 3G connection is all you would need
- If the vehicles will be accessing websites or pulling down data then a faster connection may make sense
- If you are looking to do more with the data it might be worth exploring the LTE option
- When exploring cellular options, it’s important to know who “owns” the cellular contract?
- Will the contract be a direct sales to your organization or will it go through a third-party provider?
- Many states have existing cellular agreements so it’s good to check and see what your direct options are
- If a lower rate has been pre-negotiated you could take advantage of the discount
- Another item to consider is the security of your cellular network
- If you are working with a third party provider it is important to secure the network and make sure the data is protected
- This could be at the carrier level or specific security changes on your devices
- Locking the devices down will prevent un-intended use and data overages