Whenever there is a discussion of asset tracking the idea of an excel sheet keeping a track of all the assets might come to your mind. The fact is that there are multiple technologies which have been used to provide solutions for Asset Tracking viz: barcode, QR code, Global Positioning System (GPS), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Near Field Communication (NFC), Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).
RFId and BLE are two significant ones that are making headway in this direction. Let us dig a little understand the basics, their differences and their advantages:
What is RFId?
In its fullest form, it reads as Radio Frequency Identification. A Russian physicist named Leon Theremin created it way back in 1946. It uses radio waves and consists of a tag which is an integrated circuit with an antenna. The radio waves transmitted out by the tag get read by an RFID reader. The reader converts these radio waves into useful data and identifies the tag.
The antenna conveys a radio-frequency signal furnishing a way for communication with the RFID tag. When the RFID tag goes through the frequency field of the scanning antenna; it identifies the activation signal and can store the data to be picked up by the antenna.
RFId is one of the oldest technologies and has been used in various sectors ranging from Retail to even healthcare. Typical use has been to tag items that one needs to track like in a shop one would want unbilled items to be tracked if they are being taken out of the store. This has been a very successful and most widely used scenario one would find for the RFId.
What is BLE?
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) also known as Bluetooth Smart, is a wireless technology that basically helps form personal area networks. The key advantage of this technology is that it is designed to work with low power consumption if one compares with the Classic Bluetooth which is the technology that we commonly know as Bluetooth.
BLE is a relatively new standard. This was a Bluetooth standard that was developed specifically with a focus on low energy. It was developed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) with a focus on low energy. It has enabled the addition of a low-power communications interface to the existing systems. It can be used to create new low-power devices such as beacons that can be powered by a small coin cell battery for months or even years.
BLE has a wide range of usage possibilities. It can be implemented in a broad set of fields such as health, fitness, security, home automation, home entertainment, smart industry and IoT (Internet of Things). It also has been incorporated into the smartphones and laptops that we use every day. The current omnipresence of smartphones has ensured that there is a rapid adoption of BLE. Additionally, the big opportunity it provides to the device manufacturers is that of ready access to a worldwide BLE user base.
Asset Tracking using RFId
Obviously as discussed, one would need to attach an RFId tag to the asset to be tracked. If you have a reader placed around the tracking area then the asset to which the tag is attached can be easily located as it passes by the reader. The RFId reader can detect even if it is far away. These tags can also be quickly scanned. The data obtained can be directly fed into the computer system.
Asset Tracking using BLE
BLE asset tracking is similar in the fact that the assets would need to be attached with BLE tags. In the case of BLE, there are Relays and Gateways involved. The relays detect Bluetooth signals. Using the strength of these signals the relays send information to the central server through the Gateways. BLE asset tracking keeps a real-time track of the assets
BLE Vs RFID
Let us look at various parameters which are relevant for asset tracking and how both these technologies compare:
BLE tags are able to provide much more information than RFID tags. In an RFID tag typically basic information about the identity of the asset gets stored. In contrast, the BLE tags can provide much more. Over and above the identity information, it also provides the location of the tag and the asset at hand. Additionally, it can provide the data from a sensor attached to include information about the temperature monitored as well as any feedback provided to information provided. This becomes important for solutions for Proximity Marketing for Malls where is imperative that additional data can be sent back and forth.
The ability to point out the accurate location is another important feature needed in any asset tracking solution. In the case of RFID, there is a need to add additional hardware like a beacon reader to find the coordinates of the RFID tag. BLE tags generally are solutions for location-based information. These can be accurate up to 3m. BLE tags carry signals to the relays in terms of signal strengths, which are then triaged to find the appropriate position of the tag relative to the relays fixed at specific locations. This is really the key for solutions like Pallet Tracking in Warehouse.
The BLE tags remain active throughout the life cycle and are constantly being tracked by the relays and gateways. The location of the tags is being determined continuously ensuring that there is a track and trace of the path within the geo-fences within which they get tracked.
The RFID which is active can be detected for presence but one can not specifically locate them and pin them to an area or periphery.
The complete solution implemented using RFID would need the readers to be connected to a system in the backend and this connection is over ethernet cable. In BLE, on the other hand the relays and tags are connected using Bluetooth and wifi.
Ease of Implementation
In the case of RFID, there is a need to lay out cables and do the wiring. This results in additional bottlenecks and constraints for the installation and implementation of RFID solutions. The fact that there are very few additional fittings needed for a BLE solution, makes it simpler to get going and hence a faster implementation timeline.
In the case of BLE tags, these can be made available with additional sensors like temperature or humidity sensors. RFIDs don’t come along with any sensors and are less versatile. Some solutions like the one for Cold Storage Warehouse need this edge to deliver value.
Typically RFId tags don’t have a memory to store data as the temperatures and humidity are recorded. The information within the RFID tags is static. BLE tags can store information from sensors and then transmit them through the relays and gateways.
It is possible to integrate RFID with sensors but it is not so easy when compared with that of BLE devices. The integration is enabled and hard-wired on the BLE chips so that it becomes much easier to handle integrations.
Smart Phone Support
It is compatible with smartphones as these days technology support for BLE is pre-built into smartphones. This is not the case with RFID. You can therefore use a smartphone to scan for your BLE tags.
With very little fittings needed for the BLE-based solution and the batteries in the BLE, tags can last for a couple of years. RFID especially the active ones needs battery replacements which call for frequent maintenance of the tags and monitoring to check if the batteries are working fine.
Most of the RFID tags are not waterproof or water resistant, although there are few rugged varieties that are IP67 compliant. BLE tags can come in various form factors with the advantage of being the latest technology and also ensuring that they are compatible with the IP67 standards.
BLE tags can detect that motion as well as lack of motion. These tags can be programmed to send out a signal if there is no motion for a specified period of time. This is useful especially in tags that are used as employee ids, to ensure that the employees always are wearing the ID cards. This ensures that a solution like an Employee Tracking becomes effective.
The passive RFID cards can’t detect either motion or lack of movement as it is active only brought near the reader.
The BLE tags used as employee ID cards can also have an SOS button. In case of an emergency, this SOS will alert the authorities instantly. The tag can be tracked in terms of location and help can reach the employee in a timely fashion. This feature is also one of the USP of the solution used for Security Fleet Management
RFId cards used in employee ID cards are passive ones, hence implementing an SOS would need some kind of customization.
In terms of technology, BLE definitely has advantages over RFID, especially when it comes to Asset tracking. With further advancements in BLE technology like Bluetooth 5, the tilt in favor is even more. Definitely, it is important to ensure that the solution chosen should match up with the business needs. But along with the cost another important consideration to be looked into is future-proofing. It is therefore important to choose the right roadmap and the right technology to take it in the right direction!!!