A fleet manager from around 40 years ago would be surrounded by a whirlwind of spreadsheets (not the electronic kind, but the paper kind), calculators, heavy-duty desk phones, and handwritten purchase orders. Today’s fleet managers have a slew of electronic gadgets to help their cause, but the directive remains the same: manage a fleet of vehicles in the safest, most cost-efficient manner possible.
Even small missteps in fleet management can cost organisations money: downtime means costs go up, productivity goes down, and profits erode. Meanwhile, fleet managers also have to grapple with rising energy costs, increasing security concerns, and growing competition.
Fortunately, this is where M2M communications come into play: whether a business has a fleet of just a few company cars or dozens of long-haul trucks, incorporating M2M technology into managing vehicles can boost the business’ efficiency, avoid liability, and reduce costs.
In fact, commercial fleet telematics has become quite the hot vertical in the M2M arena: ABI Research forecasts that revenues in the commercial fleet telematics market will increase to $26.8 billion in 2018 from $7.25 billion in 2012— almost a four-fold increase.
Today, M2M-powered fleet management solutions can provide visibility and insights into driver behaviour, fuel usage, routes taken, vehicle diagnostics, and safety concerns. This high level of visibility facilitates smarter decision-making and in turn lowers operational costs.
And how do these solutions work? Well, M2M modules provide IP-based high-speed connectivity to serve up state-of-the-art vehicle tracking app suites. Sensors embedded throughout the vehicle measure dynamic elements such as driver ID, GPS location, acceleration, time, distance, heading changes, speed, shock, temperature of cargo, and more. This data is then sent to the cloud where it is transformed into intelligence that can be accessed via a secure web interface and mobile apps and acted upon.
These solutions allow manufacturing and distribution companies to ‘see’ products 24/7 and change routes and schedules in real-time to improve productivity and ensure on-time delivery. M2M solutions also automatically adjust temperature, humidity, and pressure in cargo containers for ideal environmental conditions to safeguard goods from spoilage.
Uninterrupted connectivity is key
With M2M, devices ‘talk’ to each other over wireless connections and share data without direct human intervention – mobile network operators (MNOs) often use consumer-grade SIM cards, conventionally used in mobile phones, to facilitate this.
But while cell phones have a shelf life of only a few years, the lifespan of machines such as automotive fleets is considerably longer. And while cell phones are designed to withstand day-to-day handling by consumers, automotive fleets, especially of the industrial variety, are expected to withstand rugged terrains, extreme weather conditions (for instance, the scorching heat of the Middle East), and endless miles of travel. Unsurprisingly, this leaves plenty of room for SIM cards to malfunction.
To tackle just this issue, SIM cards designed specifically for M2M usage, known as machine identification modules (MIMs), were introduced. But because SIM cards are a cheaper alternative, and because MNOs are not always aware of the significant advantages of using MIMs, they often deploy SIM cards instead.
But usage of MIMs poses several benefits: MIMs secure the identity of machines communicating on cellular networks and provide security authentication. They are optimised to survive extremes of vibration, temperature, and humidity, and withstand industrial manufacturing processes. Additionally, certain MIM providers can also equip fleet managers with MIM services such as the ability to monitor the health of MIMs deployed, detect issues, and make adjustments to pre-empt service failure. Audit alerts can be set to indicate each time a device drops below a specific signal strength.
Fortunately, progressive MNOs are now waking up to the value of investing in MIM cards; operators such as Mobily in Saudi Arabia and du in the UAE, have now adopted these with encouraging results. According to a recently published report, the MENA region is primed to become a global logistics hub, heavily supported by M2M technology. In the UAE alone, the value of the total logistics market is expected to reach $27 billion in 2015. It is imperative MNOs invest in capable solutions in line with this projected growth to nurture smart, sustainable cities within the region.
About the author
Sherry Zameer, senior VP telecoms solutions MEA at Gemalto.