Telematics vs smartphones: Which tracking is right for you?

Jan 22, 2021
Supply Chain
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When it comes to tracking road freight deliveries, there are two common devices used: telematics systems and smartphones. As a real-time transportation visibility platform, Shippeo collects GPS positions from either smartphones via apps, such as Shippeo’s Driver app, or from embedded computer systems installed in trucks. But are these methods as good as each other? Or do telematics systems do a better job improving the reliability of route analysis, ETAs and shipment status, compared to smartphones?

Why smartphones are not as effective for GPS tracking

The Shippeo platform is able to collect GPS positions from multiple data sources, including smartphones, onboard computers and even transport management systems (TMS). The source used largely depends on the size of the carriers. Carriers with small truck fleets don’t necessarily need to invest in telematics solutions. Instead, fleet management can be carried out with smartphones. On the other hand, larger carriers and logistics service providers (3PL or 4PLs) use onboard IT and/or TMS systems, which offer a more automated and seamless operation.

The first point to note on the differences is that quality and richness of the data collected differs between systems. In order to collect data in real-time and calculate an accurate and reliable Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA), the frequency of the GPS signal must be very good.

Unfortunately, smartphones don’t sufficiently automate the retrieval of GPS positions in the same way on-board telematics do. The phone must be switched on and the battery sufficiently charged, in an area with reception, and the driver must remember to manually activate app tracking correctly.

A smartphone timestamps location data based on its own clock settings. So if for example a driver has changed the phone’s clock in order to be able to replay another round of Candy Crush (yes this really happens), the location data collected will be distorted.

Even though phones can generally produce a GPS signal at regular intervals, the fact that a GPS signal can be lost very easily greatly affects the tracking performance and the quality of ETA. Likewise, when smartphones lose mobile network coverage, such as when crossing borders, smartphones can spend a lot of time searching for signal, preventing real-time data from being uploaded in the interim.

Finally, there are safety considerations for the drivers. With all of these potential issues, drivers sometimes end up having to change their settings and restart their phones, which they may try to do - though they certainly shouldn’t - while driving.

So tracking deliveries via smartphone is a solution suitable for small carriers or spot charters, but integration with telematics or carriers' TMS gives more reliable access to data more suited to predictive and real-time visibility.

When using smartphones for GPS tracking makes sense

While telematics devices are overall better for tracking, there are some circumstances where it makes more sense to rely on smartphone apps and this is why Shippeo was built to be able to connect with multiple types of data sources. For example, spot chartering demands a more flexible tracking approach and the quickest and easiest solution to get tracking underway when a truck may not have telematics integrated with Shippeo (or may not have telematics at all) is via the smartphone app.

Using smartphones for tracking also makes sense when unit level visibility is required. For example, when an organization wants to track not just the truck but each individual shipment inside it, to achieve a more granular level of operational visibility. For this, the app can be used to scan unit barcodes as goods are loaded and unloaded. Shippeo recommends that telematics be used in conjunction to take care of the real-time location tracking as the truck moves from point to point, given the better performance compared to smartphones. However, Shippeo’s smartphone app can provide the real-time GPS data as well.

The proportion of vehicles tracked by smartphone vs onboard computers

Our core business focus is helping companies in sectors where supply chain transportation facilitates mission critical operations, including automotive and construction sectors, mass distribution or logistics service providers (3PL or 4PL). In these contexts, we can interface with more sophisticated systems such as on-board telematics or carrier TMS systems. Today, the vast majority of tracking (90%) for road transport is carried out via these data sources and the rest by devices such as smartphones or tablets.

Expanding telematics data collection use cases beyond location

Onboard telematics computers make it possible to extract many types of data from a vehicle, beyond just its location, and we’re seeing growing interest within the market for this capability. One example is to extract the actual number of kilometers travelled in order to accurately calculate carbon emissions per vehicle. Shippeo’s collaborating with partners such as German trailer manufacturer Krone to expand offerings in this space. However, the majority of our customers are shippers and their major challenge is the real-time and predictive position of their trucks.

Shippeo’s TMS and telematics network

Shippeo collects accurate, real-time data from over 700 different systems including TMS, AIS, Parcel APIs and a large majority of the onboard IT providers in Europe through Shippeo’s own API. This equates to more than 140,000 carriers in more than 70 countries throughout the world. You can find some of our partners here.

To discover the best location tracking device approach for your organization, speak to one of our friendly experts. You can also read more about the importance of accurate and reliable ETAs in our guide.

Telematics vs smartphones: Which tracking is right for you?
Telematics vs smartphones: Which tracking is right for you?
Telematics vs smartphones: Which tracking is right for you?

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