Asset tracking technology has become an essential tool across industries, from manufacturing and healthcare to logistics and aviation. What is asset tracking? Asset tracking is a method for businesses to manage their assets, such as equipment, tools, and technology. According to ABI Research, asset tracking investments in manufacturing were about $2 billion in 2021. This rise in adoption and increased investment is driven by the need for operational efficiency, cost reduction, and improved inventory management. As industries continue to strive towards Industry 4.0 and digital transformation of day-to-day operations, so do the technologies that support these critical functions. 

In this article, we will focus on the technologies used to achieve asset tracking; specifically these three technologies—Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Ultra-Wideband (UWB), and BLE Mesh.  

BLE: The General-Purpose Workhorse

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) stands out as the most versatile and cost-effective solution for asset tracking in large areas with high tracking volumes. BLE beacons are highly affordable, with prices typically in the low dollar range per sensor. Infrastructure costs are also relatively low and continue to drop. 

One significant advantage of BLE is its availability as an off-the-shelf technology, which allows businesses to quickly and easily implement BLE solutions without the need for extensive customization or development. BLE is also constantly evolving, with ongoing advancements driving down costs for both sensors and infrastructure. This trend is largely due to the efforts of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) and the broader Bluetooth community, which continue to innovate and expand BLE’s capabilities.

BLE beacons offer an accuracy of approximately 5-10 feet, which is sufficient for many applications. Moreover, BLE beacons boast an impressive battery life of several years, while the infrastructure typically requires no battery replacements. The simplicity of BLE deployment, requiring no calibration, makes it a low-complexity solution suitable for a wide range of scenarios which is why we deem it as the “general purpose workhorse.”

UWB: Precision at a Cost

Ultra-Wideband (UWB) technology excels in high-precision tracking scenarios, particularly in open areas where a line of sight is obtainable. This precision makes UWB ideal for use cases such as tracking athletes on a sports field or locating machinery in a large, open warehouse. However, this high level of accuracy comes at a cost. UWB beacons are significantly more expensive, with prices often higher than those of BLE beacons, and infrastructure costs are also substantial.

UWB offers superior accuracy, achieving precision within a few centimeters, provided there is a clear line of sight. However, the battery life of UWB sensors is relatively short, lasting only days to weeks if used similarly to BLE, where location updates are provided a few times every minute. This high power consumption is a significant drawback compared to BLE’s longer battery life.

Additionally, UWB requires professional calibration and high-cost infrastructure, making it a more complex and expensive option compared to BLE. Despite these challenges, UWB technology is expected to follow a similar growth trajectory to BLE. As technology advances and adoption increases, the costs associated with UWB are likely to decrease, making it a more accessible option in the future. 

BLE Mesh: Bridging the Gap

BLE Mesh serves as an intermediary solution, offering general-purpose tracking, best utilized in environments with low tracking volumes. When used in low-volume tracking areas, the technology can be better utilized to conserve the battery power of anchors. The cost of BLE Mesh is similar to that of BLE, with beacons priced similarly, but it does not rely on centralized gateways; rather, it uses a layout of anchors to transmit signals from anchor to anchor until it reaches its “hub”.

BLE Mesh provides an accuracy comparable to BLE, within a general range. However, BLE Mesh requires periodic battery replacements for anchors every several months, which is less efficient than BLE but still manageable. This trade-off involves easier deployment of infrastructure compared to BLE, as it eliminates the need for extensive wiring and centralized control. However, this convenience is balanced by the need to regularly replace batteries in the mesh nodes.

The best use case for BLE Mesh is in scenarios where ease of deployment and scalability are critical, such as in large buildings, warehouses, or even places like campuses or hospitals where wiring for traditional BLE infrastructure would be challenging. 

Why Asset Tracking is Important

All asset tracking technologies have their pros, cons, and tradeoffs. At Thinaer, BLE remains the most practical and cost-effective solution for general-purpose asset tracking. Its advantages in cost, simplicity, and sufficient accuracy make it the preferred choice for many applications. However, UWB and BLE Mesh have their place in specific scenarios where high precision or certain deployment conditions are required. As advancements in battery efficiency and cost reductions occur, these technologies may become more viable.

For more information about asset tracking, check out our topical, industry-centered data sheets.

By Product

Thinaer Sonar

Classified Area

API

Digital Twin

Asset Tracking

By Industry

Manufacturing

Defense & DoD

Aerospace

Aviation

Healthcare

Consumer Packaged Goods

By Product

Thinaer Sonar

Classified Area

API

Digital Twin

Asset Tracking

By Industry

Manufacturing

Defense & DoD

Aerospace

Aviation

Healthcare

Consumer Packaged Goods

Blog Articles

i

Case Studies

White Papers

Data Sheets

Videos

About

Careers

News & Press

Partners

Contact