The world of Fleet Management has changed considerably since GPS technology was first made available to the public in 1983. In the early years, government concerns for security prohibited GPS technology from specifying locations more accurately than within 100 yards. That was changed to 10 yards by President Clinton in 2000, and with that fleet management was launched.
Navigation and vehicle tracking were the first steps into fleet management, made possible by the Global Navigation Satellites circling the Earth. We all remember GPS units stored in their own cases and brought out for dashboard installation when assistance was needed to plan out a route.
Many times, the GPS navigation unit contained a built-in antenna. When an external antenna was called for, GPS-only magnet-mounted antennas offered quick installations and improved reception of the GPS signal. Surface-mounted GPS antennas allowed for permanent installations for reliable, always-on connectivity.
Although Fleet Management systems have evolved considerably since the early years, there are still applications where the GPS element may be installed separately from the other wireless elements. In some installation settings, for example, a separate location may be required to maintain sufficient coverage.
Today’s Global Navigation systems include additional satellite systems beyond GPS such as Glonass, Galileo, or BeiDou.
The next steps involved combining GPS technology with Cellular technology. The earliest systems consisted of two elements: one GPS element and one Cellular element. The GPS element allowed for navigation, and the cellular element allowed the location to be transmitted to a central monitoring location for vehicle tracking and improved logistics management, including the ability to redirect vehicles in real-time as requirements changed.
Fleet managers soon saw the advantages of extending these systems. WiFi was added to allow data to be uploaded or downloaded in the staging area. Trucks returning from a delivery route would download stored data relating to the trip or stored telematics data relating to the condition of the vehicle. Public Transit buses could upload information relating to service messages for the public. Eventually, WiFi was added as a service to passengers as an in-vehicle WiFi Hotspot.
Telemetry monitoring of the vehicles continued to evolve. More data was collected by On-board units (OBU) and used to anticipate service requirements before there was a breakdown. Although the information may have been offloaded only periodically in the initial years, systems evolved to collect and transmit the data in real-time over the Cellular network. Out-of-service hours could be greatly reduced saving headaches and money. In addition to Long-distance truckers and Public Transit Buses, Service Vans and Precision Agriculture vehicles such as Tractors and Thrashers also benefited from this behind-the-scene monitoring.
Remote monitoring isn’t limited to Tire Pressure, Brake fluid or Oil levels; some monitoring systems are tied to the contents being shipped. Refrigerated containers can be equipped with temperature sensors to detect and respond to a power failure that would otherwise result in damaged goods. A sensor placed in the container can communicate the critical information to the OBU which relays the information on to the central monitoring station.
Additional applications were increasingly added to a fleet management system. For cross-country trucking, an Iridium Satellite antenna might be added to ensure real-time connectivity in areas with spotty Cellular coverage. Or, for university, governmental and commercial groups working on Connected Car trials, a 5.9 GHz element might be added to the overall communications system.
Throughout this period, the wireless systems themselves were evolving. The initial multiband combinations used for Fleet Management gave way to new systems that provide coverage on new frequency bands allocated by the FCC in the US and similar agencies throughout the world.
The most significant development came with the advent of 4G LTE and the possibility of using Multiple-Input-Multiple-Output to improve speed and consistency of coverage. Initial Cellular MIMO systems consisted of two elements, each capturing or transmitting signals with the data combined to enhance the overall quality.
At the same time, WiFi systems were evolving and also made use of MIMO technology for greater speed and larger data throughput.
Routers and modems for this period were often using two Cellular elements and up to four WiFi elements. Different mixes were used, depending on the application and data requirements.
From an antenna perspective, combining multiple antennas in a single antenna package becomes complicated. Care has to be taken to make sure there is no interaction among the elements and the as system exists to separate the signals in MIMO systems.
As Cellular moved from 2G to 3G to 4G LTE, fleet management operators were able to transmit more data, more quickly. At each of these stages, additional frequency bands were opened up. Router manufacturers upgraded their equipment to cover the additional bands, and antenna manufacturers did the same.
It should be noted that not all Fleet Management systems required the added speed and volume of data. Many of these systems continue today to rely on a narrower range of frequencies that provide sufficient coverage for their applications.
It is important to read the router or modem specs carefully to see which frequency bands are coverage by a particular model.
2G 824-1990 MHz
3G 824-2100 MHz
4G LTE initially 694-2700 MHz
4G LTE with CBRS 694-3700 MHz
4G LTE with Band 71 617-3700 MHz
5G Sub-6 617-6000 MHz
As the routers and modems evolved to cover the new technologies, the antennas also had to evolve. Each Cellular antenna element was redesigned to accommodate the additional bandwidth. Some of these changes required larger antenna elements as the bandwidth requirements broadened. Again, care had to be taken to ensure that the elements were sufficiently isolated, one from the other.
The FCC is in the process of phasing out the 3G networks. These bands will be moved over to 4G LTE or 5G. The frequencies remain the same so the antennas will continue to transmit or receive over those frequencies, but the network software behind the transmissions will be upgraded. As a result, routers or modems operating on 3G networks must be upgraded.
However, 2G networks will continue to operate. As a safety concern for the public, 2G phones such as the flip-phones, which tend to be used by older populations, will continue to be supported. This means that 2G commercial systems, such as basic fleet management or simple remote monitoring systems with low data requirements will also be supported.
Many router manufacturers and antenna manufacturers understand that there are a wide range of use cases in the industry. From an antenna perspective, it means that multiple models are required to cover the different frequency ranges used by the different Cellular generations. The result is a long list of models, but each has its place in the wireless eco-systems.
The following table shows how cellular frequency coverage can vary within the Mobile Mark SMW & LTM families. Similar model differences are available for other series of antennas, such as the LLP and MXF.
Antenna Cellular coverage, frequency range
SMWG-301 800-1250 & 1650-2700 MHz
SMWG-305 694-894 & 1700-2700 MHz
SMWG-311 694-960 & 1700-3700 MHz
SMWG-312 694-960 & 1710-6000 MHz
LTM301 694-960 & 1710-2170 MHz
LTM302 694-960 & 1710-3700 MHz
LTMG308 617-960 & 1700-6000 MHz
These antenna models and the Cellular frequency ranges they cover demonstrate the way the cellular technology has opened up over the years. The right antenna choice is the one that covers the frequency range required by the Router or Modem. All of these models are actively being used today, meeting the needs of different wireless users.
WiFi systems have also evolved over the years making use of additional frequencies as well as using Multiple-Input-Multiple-Output (MIMO) connections.
The early WiFi system used either the 2.4 GHz band or the 5 GHz band. It is interesting to note that there are still many WiFi applications in the Industrial or Commercial space that still rely on either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz. Depending on the volume of data being transmitted, these single banded applications are often completely sufficient to get the job done.
The first multiband system, using 802.11n protocols, was introduced in the early 90’s. This system transmitted data over either or both bands, allowing the system to choose the frequency path with the least interference and least chance of data corruption.
WiFi continues to move forward as the table below demonstrates.
802.11b/g early 2.4 GHz only systems
802.11a early 5 GHz only systems
802.11n first combined 2.4 & 5 GHz systems
802.11ac faster system, primarily 5 GHz but backwards compatible
802.11ax improved 2.4 & 5 GHz, faster speeds, MIMO capability, backwards compatible
WiFi 6e recently authorized frequencies by FCC, up to 7.125 GHz
As the systems improved, the applications also changed. Large volume data transfer, including video streaming, is not possible with the more advanced WiFi systems. While most Fleet Management systems will not require this, some might. Public Transit, for example, might wish to transmit streaming video from a security camera.
Some fleet management systems have started to place at least some of the WiFi elements into a separate antenna. This may happen if there are more WiFi elements than can be accommodated in an existing antenna, or if the WiFi transmissions can be improved by positioning the WiFi antennas in a different location. For example, some Public Transit applications are moving the WiFI into the bus itself to improve connectivity for in-bus passenger WiFi connectivity. For those applications, a dedicated WiFi antenna may be the best option.
In the US, Fleet Management systems have relied on the GPS (Global Positioning System) developed initially by the US Military and opened up for public use in the late 1990s. Other regions were also developing Global Navigation System.
Today, many Fleet Management routers or modems are able to take advantage of these multiple systems. It should be noted, however, that some applications in the US are restricted in use.
Many of the Mobile Mark antennas are now available with either a GNSS antenna element, covering all of the Global Navigation system worldwide, or a dedicated GPS antenna element connecting exclusively to the GPS satellites.
Model number convention for GNSS:
Advanced Fleet Management systems today take advantage of the newest wireless industry developments and the latest releases of frequency bands by the FCC. They are still based on a combination of wireless systems but use the most advanced services available.
Cellular coverage relies on 5G Sub-6 coverage, from 600-6000 MHz. WiFi coverage is ready to cover the new WiFi 6e frequencies that go up to 7.125 GHz.
We can expect to see new frequency releases and new applications over the coming years. The FCC is currently discussing the possibility of releasing the 3.4 GHz band and maybe even the 3.1 GHz band.
The recent auction of CBRS (Citizen Broadband Radio System) at 3500-3700 MHz is expected to result in a large number of Private LTE Networks, which will give users more control over the wireless transmissions in their network. While these networks will primarily be fixed networks, we may still see some mobile applications. For example, vehicles in a Shipping Port may be tracked an managed using the Private LTE network rather than the Commercial Cellular network.
Plans for the release of the C-Band at 3.4 GHz will also result in new and innovative ways of using wireless technologies.
From an antenna perspective, the good news is that many of the existing fleet management antennas already cover both the CBRS and the C-Band frequencies.
For more information please see our new Fleet Management flyer with our list of antenna solutions encompassing the whole industry.
Mobile Mark Antenna Solutions designs and manufactures site, mobile and device antennas for 30 MHz – 6 GHz. Applications include GPS Tracking & Fleet Management, Cellular 4G LTE, 5Gready, WiFi, RFID, Public Safety FirstNet, M2M, Industrial IoT, IoT, Smart City Networks and Autonomous & Connected Cars. Engineering and custom design services are available. Mobile Mark’s global headquarters, which include research facilities and manufacturing plant, are located near Chicago, IL. An additional manufacturing and sales facility is located near Birmingham, UK. For further information visit our website: www.mobilemark.com.