Tracking technologies

Tracking technologiesKeywords: GNSS, GPS, Tracking, Receiver, Location-based services, LBS, Positioning, Wi-Fi, WLAN, WPS, WiPS, WFPS, Geolocation, RSSI, RTLS, IPS, LPWAN

Tracking technologies currently leverage a convergence of several types of technologies used to track inventory, livestock, or vehicle fleets. Similar systems can be created to deliver location-based services to wireless devices.

Five criteria are regularly used to rank the performance or effectiveness of a tracking device:

  • Robust hardware and service system without corrupted or missing data
  • Positional accuracy
  • Data update rate to service platform and latency (time delay on the determining of location)
  • User-friendly: Compact size and low weight, minimal system complexity

A variety of tracking technologies can be used to provide location-based services, including the following:

Positioning technologies – Historically, a number of methods with varying precision have been devised to calculate the location coordinates. Dead-reckoning, Cellular positioning and GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) are examples of these technologies with the last one being the most viable and popular option in the recent decade. Sometimes, a combination of two technologies – GNSS being the default option – may be used as a way for providing a backup mechanism when the signals of GNSS satellites are obstructed.

Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN), using Wi-Fi, for example – Wi-Fi positioning system (WPS), WiPS or WFPS is a geolocation system that uses the characteristics of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and other wireless access points to discover where a device is located. It is used where satellite navigation such as GPS is inadequate due to various causes including multipath and signal blockage indoors, or where acquiring a satellite fix would take too long. Such systems include urban positioning services through hotspot databases, and indoor positioning systems.

Bluetooth Positioning Technology – Using Bluetooth technology to determine the physical location involves sophisticated infrastructure deployments. Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) measurement is an important technology that can be used to estimate the distance between Bluetooth devices that are part of the system. Using this approach, meter-level accuracy can be achieved when determining the location of a specific device. However, by adding the direction finding technology, then the positioning system can use both signal strength and direction to calculate the location of a device and achieve much greater accuracy. Positioning accuracy down to centimeter-level can be achieved. The most popular Bluetooth positioning systems include Real-time locating systems (RTLS) and indoor positioning systems (IPS).

Low-power wide-area network (LPWAN: NB-IOT, CAT M1, LoRa, Sigfox) – This type of wireless telecommunication system is designed to allow long-range communications at a low bit rate among connected devices such as sensors operating on battery power. The intended low power, low bit rate scenario distinguishes this type of positioning technologies from WAN systems that are designed to connect users or businesses which need to carry more data and are expected to use more power. The LPWAN data rate normally ranges from 0.3 kbit/s to 50 kbit/s per channel.

Mobile telecommunication technologies (3G/4G/5G) – Mobile telecommunication has evolved rapidly over the past years. Since the start of this millennium, a standard mobile device has gone from being a simple pager to a complex smartphone. The evolution of telecommunication technology is quite amazing. Mobile phones can also be used as a tracking device to determine the current position of a user no matter in a moving or stationary condition. Mobile tracking technology can provide the distance between the mobile phone and the base stations. This location service is normally provided by a location data processor included in a base station. The service provider can select three adjacent base stations surrounding the mobile telephone to determine the location of the mobile phone.

Selecting the right antenna for your tracking devices

General guidelines for selecting the right antenna for your tracking devices are as follows:

A. Assess available space and location in the device for antenna installation

Depending on the dimensions and shape of the electronic device, the available space and proper location to install an antenna within a device may have significant differences. Various design methodologies and manufacturing processes can be used for the fabrication of an antenna which can meet the requirements of the device. Antennas come in different structures, shapes and sizes and can be installed on the housing or on a circuit board with a different footprint. Please consult Unictron’s antenna engineering team for the optimized antenna design-in approaches. Unictron’s Antenna-on-Demand Selector on our official website also presents our offerings based on your requirements, allowing you to easily assess how it might relate to the final design of your device.

B. Understand operational frequencies

The antenna must operate in an appropriate frequency range for the designated positioning systems. For example, for the GNSS positioning systems, different countries may operate different satellite systems; each system operates at different frequencies and across different bands. Make sure you know which satellite system your GNSS tracking device will be using, and the associated frequency bands.

C. Materials and forms

The range of materials available to RF engineers designing antennas is rather extensive. Ceramic, PCB/FPC, LDS plastic materials, metal, and various composite materials are all viable options for the manufacturing of antennas today. Depending on the other components in your tracking device, different materials will make for more efficient or less efficient transmissions. The environments your device will be functioning also influence choice of the material your antenna is made of. Think about the potential needs and applications of your tracking device and speak to Unictron’s wireless experts to discuss which materials would work best for your device.

D. Ground plane requirements

Ground plane is a must have requirement for an embedded antenna to be installed on a circuit board Unless antennas are built or installed on a housing or a mechanical structure. Ground planes are crucial if an antenna is going to reliably send and receive signals, but they require space, and space is precious on a portable tracking device. Make sure you know how much space your antenna requires for an effective ground plane, and that you can incorporate that space into your designs. To ensure your ultimate design isn’t compromised, consult with Unictron engineers to assess antennas with a ground plane that works with your tracking device.

E. Minimizing interference

Mobile tracking devices are likely to be exposed to a range of environments, depending on where they are. Tall buildings, metallic objects, nearby wireless devices, and even the other components in a device itself can all potentially disrupt the signals transmitting or receiving from an antenna. When selecting an antenna for a tracking device, it is useful to know whether your design suits an antenna that can isolate interference, or whether you will have to find other ways of minimizing disruption to its signal. Careful positioning of your antenna is one of the key ways to avoid potential interference. Carefully review product datasheets and/or consult a Unictron antenna expert to make sure your antenna selection works with your device.

F. Directional or omni-directional

What kind of antenna is most suitable for your tracking applications depends on how and where the tracking devices will be used in the field. If your tracking device can remain consistently facing the sky, then a relatively directional patch antenna is the most reliable one for your application. However, for a portable device which needs to be able to transmit and receive signals whatever their orientation: whether they are facing up or facing down. Then you may like to choose an omni-directional antenna. This will in turn impact upon component selection and installation location as your antenna needs to send and receive signal with no disruption from nearby parts. Be sure to choose an antenna that will be compatible with other components selected for your tracking device. Please consult with Unictron’s engineers for antennas installation which will work best with your tracking device

Why Unictron?

Unictron has long been one of the major antenna providers in Taiwan for devices used in location-based services. We are one of the major patch antenna suppliers to multiple high-profile Japanese automotive companies. We are also one of the major antenna module providers for car manufacturers in Taiwan. Large variety of antennas with various designs and manufacturing processes are readily available. Unictron is also a well-known provider for receivers and trackers including the robust offender tracker for government authority in various countries. A variety of positioning tracking technologies has been used to provide customers with more reliable tracking solutions, which can provide positioning data outdoors or indoors. In the future, we will further develop smaller, lower power consumption tracking devices. In addition, we will continue to add heart rate sensors, temperature sensors, step-counting and other functions to wearable positioning trackers, which we plan to offer to healthcare and childcare centers for monitoring the safety of children, and nursing homes to monitor the elderly who are prone to accidents.

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