Cellular, Past And Present: The Evolution Of A Global Network

Dagny Dukach
Dagny Dukach

When you think about cellular technologies, the first thing that comes to mind is probably your iPhone -- not supply chain. But while cellular was initially developed to support consumer products like cell phones and other mobile devices, recent advances are broadening the scope of cellular applications. Specifically, over the last several decades, a variety of technology and infrastructure developments have led to significant improvements for industrial IoT applications, making a cellular-based solution the superior choice for global supply chain applications. constantly_connected_cover_image

In our recent white paper, Constantly Connected: How Cellular Enables a Digital Supply Chain, we discuss in detail how cellular compares with other communications technologies, the advantages of cellular for supply chain tracking applications, and the current and future technology advances that are making the cellular-powered digital supply chain possible. To learn more about the evolution of cellular supply chain tracking solutions, download the full white paper today, or read on for a brief overview of the recent developments enabling the cellular-powered digital supply chain.

Related Content: Constantly Connected: How Cellular Enables a Digital Supply Chain


In the past, cellular services often suffered from spotty or unreliable service, especially outside of densely-populated urban areas. But over the last several years, increased demand for service even in remote areas has led to significant investment in global cellular base station development. According to a recent report from GSMA Intelligence, today 90% of the world’s populated areas have cellular coverage, making cellular an excellent option for monitoring shipments as they travel through a global supply chain.

Of course, for cellular service to be useful, you need more than just infrastructure. The other key piece of the cell service equation is access to networks. For much of their history, the world’s cellular carriers charged roaming fees for customers of competing networks, making it difficult to rely on a single, simple plan for global coverage. But with the massive growth of the IoT market, the cellular industry has experienced a huge surge in demand for cellular plans that allow devices to stay connected as they move across coverage boundaries. As a result, international carriers have begun to create mutual agreements that eliminate roaming charges and provide global coverage at a fixed monthly cost. And it's not just individual carries -- taking notice of the rising importance of industrial IoT applications, the EU voted to abolish roaming charges in 2015, and similar policies have been implemented in China and other key areas. These improvements in both infrastructure and access have been key to enabling cellular-based supply chain visibility solutions.

Data Plan Cost

In the past, data plans were primarily designed for high-bandwidth smartphone activities, such as streaming video or downloading large files. Although this was great for consumers, it meant that there were very few options for low-cost, low-bandwidth data plans. With hundreds or thousands of devices spread out across a global supply chain, paying for individual data plans for each device would quickly become extremely expensive.

Fortunately, in response to growing demand for low-cost, low-bandwidth data plans for IoT applications, carriers began offering cost-effective small data plans (on the order of a 1MB or less) that can be pooled across many devices. So if a company has to monitor a hundred containers, each with its own tracking device, they can all operate under the same joint, low-cost 1MB data plan.

Tracker Battery Life

One of the biggest factors for cellular supply chain tracking is device lifetime. While a cell phone might be considered impressive with a battery life of a few days, a supply chain tracking device will need to last the length of an entire supply chain: several weeks or even months, end-to-end. In the past, this was a serious hurdle for cellular-based tracking solutions. But today, new technology has enabling supply chain trackers to have extremely long battery lives.

In a recent interview with FierceWireless, SVP of AT&T Mobility’s IoT Solutions Chris Penrose explained: "Newer technologies will provide a longer battery life, and that will enable [significant growth for] cellular-enabled IoT devices”. From smaller, more power-dense batteries and cellular components to new low-power infrastructure and communications protocols, these technological advances have come together to enable a cellular-connected tracker that lasts over a year on a single charge. 

Cellular: The Foundation of the Digital Supply Chain

Thanks to these advances in both technology and infrastructure, cellular has emerged as the foundation of a modern digital supply chain. For more information on how cellular-powered tools are enabling a new level of visibility into the global supply chain, download the free white paper or request a demo with Tive today.

Related Content: Constantly Connected: How Cellular Enables a Digital Supply Chain

Topics: Digital Supply Chain

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