Perfect Match: LoRaWAN® Complements BLE for Real-Time Asset Location Tracking

LoRaWAN Compliments BLE

March 31, 2022

Will Sanderson

Anyone can lose a set of keys or a wallet, but what about a centrifuge, shipping container, or hospital bed? It turns out you can lose these too in the organized chaos of a large operation with lots of mobile assets.

Portable, high-value objects are essential to operations in various industries, from life sciences to healthcare to manufacturing. Some things can fit in the palm of a hand while others sit on wheeled carts or have wheels of their own. As these assets move around a building or campus, tracking their most current location becomes difficult without an IoT-enabled real-time location solution (RTLS) in place.

It’s a common occurrence for these assets to inevitably get misplaced – even lost, in research labs, hospitals, factories, logistics centers and other large facilities. When assets go missing, workers have to spend time looking for them. If an asset can’t be found quickly or becomes lost, a company usually has to replace it. And both scenarios cost the company time and money.

This is why real-time asset tracking is a major priority. Typically, organizations turn to RFID (radio frequency identification) solutions for their RTLS needs because the technology has been around for decades and is generally believed to be a cost-effective option. Useful as it is, though, newer wireless standards that deliver greater accuracy are available and often times, a better option—both from a location accuracy and cost perspective.

One asset-tracking approach that has been gaining favor combines the short-range capabilities of BLE with the long-range reach of LoRaWAN® (Long-Range Wide-Area Network).

The Appeal of BLE

Everyone is familiar with Bluetooth technology. It’s ubiquitous because it has become the standard in connecting cellphones with speakers and headphones and computers with keyboards, mice, speakers, and other wireless devices.

BLE is the low-power variation of the Bluetooth standard. Like RFID, BLE uses low-cost tags and readers but surpasses RFID in accuracy, pinpointing the location of objects down to three meters. It is well suited for RTLS because of its accuracy, long battery life, and affordability.

Data Capture with LoRaWAN®

Companies get the best of both worlds with a combined LoRaWAN/BLE solution because LoRaWAN adds long-range connectivity to BLE’s location accuracy. The LoRaWAN standard was designed for long-range low-power wireless connections, hence its use in IoT applications such as smart metering and industrial asset tracking across vast deployment areas.

A solution that leverages BLE and LoRaWAN uses BLE tags placed on assets and LoRaWAN-enabled location bridges installed on ceilings and walls across a building. The bridges define specific communication zones and scan for BLE asset tags nearby. The data is captured using strategically placed LoRaWAN gateways, which send asset location information to the cloud via cellular or Ethernet backhaul.

This approach enables implementing an asset tracking solution without touching a company’s corporate network. As such, there is no added burden on Wi-Fi networks or extra work for IT teams. In addition, LoRaWAN uses the open 900MHz ISM band while BLE uses the 2.4GHz band, neither of which interferes with existing network infrastructure. When used together, enterprises not only obtain secure, real-time location tracking but gain the foundation of a dedicated LoRaWAN network that they can use to add future IoT use cases to lower the total cost of ownership.

Enterprise Asset Management Solution in Action

Research and development teams in pharma and life sciences often find themselves searching for essential lab equipment needed to conduct their jobs. It cuts into their productivity and raises operational costs when the equipment can’t be found.

A pharmaceutical biotech company dealing with this pervasive problem turned to MachineQ for an answer. The inability to accurately track high-value assets as they moved across an 850,000 square-foot campus forced the company to frequently replace expensive lab equipment, which impacted maintenance schedules and ate into employee productivity.

The company considered an RFID solution but determined that the trade-off—low tag costs for high OPEX costs to manage the solution—made it an unsuitable option for their RTLS needs. They concluded that MachineQ’s Enterprise Asset Management solution, which combines BLE and LoRaWAN, would provide greater accuracy at an affordable cost, along with a dedicated LoRaWAN network providing the ability to add more use cases for more operational efficiencies.

With the solution in place, the company can now accurately track more than 14,000 assets across its large campus. As a result, the customer has eliminated the annual cost of replacing misplaced assets and is saving money on maintenance contracts for missing and decommissioned assets. Additionally, staff productivity is up because employees no longer waste time looking for lab equipment.

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