As you know, knowledge comes from experience. And it is way better to learn from the mistakes of the others than from your own faults. Running a successful satellite tracking business is no exception. Wolfgang Busch, our partner from Germany, has an enormous experience in GPS-tracking and would like to share it with you.
This article deals with a number of questions you have to ask yourself and find answers to as long as you want to buy GPS-tracking equipment for business needs.
Before you choose any equipment (in this case – a reliable GPS tracker), you should find out what technical requirements it has to meet.
First, you’re bound to decide whether you need a multifunctional solution. All-in-one trackers are usually expensive and sometimes unreliable. Nevertheless, multifunctional trackers have some advantages (easy management, for example). Once you go for all-in-one trackers, you’ll only have to study functions of one particular device, its peculiarities and drawbacks. It definitely reduces time you’ll spend on educating your employees.
Also, you should consider your client’s budget: multifunctional trackers can be an easy, but rather expensive option. According to Wolfgang Busch, only 10% of your clients really need special equipment. The remaining 90% can do with simple GPS trackers. Is it reasonable to spend a lot of time and money on research and adjustments to meet expectations of the minority? Will your efforts eventually pay off?
Choice of Hardware Manufacturer
Choosing a manufacturer, pay attention to some important points:
- Сonsider the configuration methods available (remote SMS, GPRS, WEB-service configuration or USB-configuration through PC);
- Does the equipment send data to Wialon server directly or through retranslators? Retranslators can be useful for traffic monitoring and raw data conversion (Wialon receives data which is ready for use). However, your client may refuse to retranslate data through manufacturer’s servers due to some political or security reasons;
- Does the equipment at hand connect to the manufacturer’s servers via SMS or additional GPRS-configurations? Can the manufacturer manage the equipment without the owner’s sanction?
- Is there an option to adjust settings according to your needs (input and output settings, events, notification delay, etc). The more adjustable the tracker is, the less firmware rework you’ll have to do and to pay for;
- Does the manufacturer develop customer firmware? If he does, will you have to pay for it or get it for free as long as you buy so many trackers?;
- Is the software locked to IMEI numbers?
- Does the manufacturer update the software on a regular basis, offering new functions and features for free?
- Make some enquiries about the manufacturer (when was the company founded, what’s their development strategy and how ambitious their team is). Ask whether you can cooperate with software developers, make suggestions and test new functions. Make sure the manufacturer offers technical support via email and Skype.
Easy management is one of the key factors that influence the choice of tracking equipment. Once you’ve adjusted your trackers, you surely don’t want to do it again and again. Here are some useful tips that can help you reach the goal.
Input and Output Trackers
Choosing the equipment, consider the functions it will perform. For example, it can be an input tracker hidden under the panel or an output tracker connected through OBD (or even lighter).
Tracker-to-Wialon Data Transmitting Channel
In most cases mobile Internet is used to send data to Wialon server (if there is a SIM card in your tracker). Sometimes you can only use SMS-connection or GPS service.
Trackers interact with Wialon server through the commands you have adjusted (positioning, input activation, engine blocking or configuration data transmitting).
For this purpose, different data transmitting channels can be used (SMS, GPRS) as well as different types of protocols (text or binary). Commands are sent over TCP or UDP; the choice of the channel influences traffic consumption.
External and internal GPS/GSM Antennas
Internal GSM-antennas are cheaper. External antennas are costly; they provide a better and more stable signal (increasing it by 1,5-2,5 times).
External GPS-antennas do not differ much from internal ones. However, signal quality depends on the antenna position. Sometimes it is easier to fix an external antenna rather than a big tracker.
Watchdog is an effective tool to monitor the tracker performance. It detects all kinds of pendings, conducts debugging, automatically restarts corresponding modules (GPS, GSM-modem, CPU, etc) and registers data in the logs.)
This function allows you to control the system’s current state and detect GPS, GSM and network status. You can also test your equipment straight from the office.
Resistance to GPS/GSM Jamming
Make sure the tracker you chose is resistant to GPS/GSM interference and jamming and registers data on attacks in the logs. This function will help you detect drivers’ sabotage and provide your clients with well-based assumption of their employees’ activities.
Test GPRS Traffic Consumption
If you’re going to use roaming, make sure you can create a separate block of settings or a configuration for in-roaming performance. Ask whether you can use different algorithms and working modes for home network, partner networks with affordable billing and unknown networks with expensive GPRS traffic.
Make sure remote firmware update is available.
GPS Trackers: Specification
For completeness’ sake, check the following device characteristics:
- GPS receiver sensitivity (165 dBm-trackers are 200% more sensitive than the 158 dBm ones);
- GSM modem standards (vary in different countries);
- Option to use 2 SIM cards (the function can be useful, but GPRS traffic costs are pretty high when in roaming);
- The type of navigation system (GPS, GLONASS or GPS/GLONASS). For mixed-type systems, define the working mode and make sure you can choose one system or use both simultaneously;
- Electric supply range (12, 24 or 0-35 V);
- Option to get diagnostic data and conduct detailed check-up with the help of serial interface.
Certification is an important part of equipment distribution. Find out which certificates are essential in your country and what difficulties may arise during the procedure.
Examples of certificates:
- CE (Conformité Européenne) which is the mandatory conformity marking for European Economic Area;
- eMark (for European Union countries);
- FCC (for North and South America);
- Separate certifications from large telecommunication companies necessary for 3D business (for example, AT&T Certification).
In some countries auto certificate is acceptable (resistance to temperature up to 75°C).
You can check certificate validity on the Internet, and the results are often disappointing (certificate can be considered invalid or suitable for modems only). Before you buy tracking equipment, make sure the documents are in order, because certification is an expensive and time-consuming procedure.
When it comes to quality, certification can be viewed as some kind of assurance for your customers. Still, presence or absence of certificates should not influence your decision to distribute equipment; note that even certified trackers sometimes have to be checked.
How to Choose the Right Tracker?
You can start search from Wialon-compatible equipment rating. You may consider this advice trivial, but Wialon-tested equipment really works.
You can also contact Gurtam sales department and get in touch with equipment manufacturers.
Using Gurtam online catalogue, you can choose a tracker with peculiar features:
- Particular inputs/outputs;
- Option to connect tracker to Garmin and tachographs;
- Option to connect camera and voice communication devices;
- Built-in battery;
- GPS/CLONASS receivers;
- Bluetooth (option to remotely receive sensor readings via radio channel);
- Driver authorization options;
- Driving behavior analysis options.
Avoid resellers: they usually raise prices and cannot offer quick customer support (unless you deal with a distributor). Never buy replica devices since you won’t have access to the software developers and won’t be able to change GSM and GPS chip set configuration. It is safer to work with original manufacturers; to make sure you’re on the right path, ask several questions and try to get updates. Prompt response and appropriate questions will help you screen fakers.
You can also visit such trade shows as CeBIT (Germany), GITEX (Dubai) or Globalsources (Hong-Kong). If you look for new tracking equipment manufacturers, there’s no better place than a trade show. Visiting exhibitions and trade shows also helps you compare prices.
Finally, a great way to find a reliable manufacturer is to check his CE and FCC certificates through online program.
Trade and Prices
If you want to figure out a reasonable price for trackers, create a simple website like this www.gps-blabla.com and register it in South America. Then you should write to the manufacturer and ask for price list. It may turn out that you overpay for the equipment.
Nearly always manufacturers ask how many thousands of trackers you are going to buy. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth: I’m going to buy around 100 trackers at a time, but I want a discount. Manufacturers are likely to make terms with you a bit later and give you a test tracker for free.
If a tracker is not listed on our website as Wialon-compatible and reliable equipment, you need to check its functions after you receive a free-trial device. As long as you have resources to conduct testing, we recommend the following:
- Open the box and make sure printed circuit board is not self-made. Good equipment is put together automatically;
- Test GPS/GSM connections; some connections may eventually come off because of vibration and are pretty hard to fix;
- Check every wire; the more connectors there are, the more problems you’ll have to face. Molex, automobile connectors, is a time-tested and reliable choice. We also recommend that you should fix connectors with the help of cable ties to reduce vibration;
- Choose default settings and test the tracker on the table. Let the device send data to Wialon server. You can also use a GPS repeater to improve signal;
- In 24 hours, check the messages in your Wialon Hosting account. If you get less than 1140 notifications, you need to test the equipment again. There might be problems with GPS signal and standby mode as well as frequent restarts;
- Test the tracker’s crashworthy properties. A fall from height of 1,5 m can damage input antennas and SIM card holders;
- Check the battery and try to turn off/turn on the tracker multiple times. Make sure the tracker restarts properly and continues to send data to the server. You should also try to change the voltage in the range between 0 and 28 V;
- Using signal generator, try to send sine-shaped, saw-toothed and square wave signals to the head end of the tracker. In 24 hours restart the device and check its performance;
- If there is a built-in rechargeable battery in your tracker, turn it off and repeat stress test;
- Check the advanced options like 1-wire, fuel sensors, serial-interface, CAN-bus and so on;
- Climate control testing is a plus;
- Check whether navigators and other GPS-receivers affect the signal.
Once you’ve finished testing (it usually takes about 4 weeks), you can buy another lot of trackers. This time it’s better to test equipment in real condition. For this purpose you should launch a free-trial campaign and give some 20 trackers to your potential clients (testing may take up to 3 months). If you won’t be satisfied with the results, you will probably have to replace the old trackers.
How Many Trackers You Need?
When you buy equipment, you always pay first and get devices later. It’s less risky to buy a small number of trackers at a time. Neither we nor our partners have ever faced any problems with advanced charge (if unsure, use bank guarantee).
Guarantee period starts the very moment you bought the equipment and usually lasts for 12 months. Mind that there’s basically no bank guarantee for Asian goods since carriage is more expensive than new equipment.
If you buy a large lot of equipment, make sure some trackers (usually 1%) come free as a guarantee arrangement. When you talk to sales managers, show your willingness to establish long-time cooperation, and they are most likely to give you a discount.
If you choose the right manufacturer, you can reduce your expenses by at least 50%. Reliable equipment, in its turn, reduces customer support expenses by more than 80%. And that is what we’re trying to tell you: the word “expenses” does not mean the price of equipment only.
Most manufactures (about 90%) value their good name and produce high-quality equipment. But even the largest companies used to be start-ups once. Study the market and give small companies a well-deserved chance! We hope our tips on specification and testing will help you choose the right tracker.