RFID or GPS for vehicle tracking?

Both RFID and GPS technology are widely used for asset tracking, and specifically vehicle tracking. While both technologies promise to help track vehicles, they do so in very different ways. Deciding to use either technology, or a combination of both, will be based on a variety of factors including application, usage and costs.

We’ll take a look at each of these types of technology, then consider the different applications where they can be used to maximum benefit, and how they can be used in combination to great effect.

What is RFID technology?

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification and is a form of wireless communication. It uses radio waves to identify a wide variety of ‘tagged’ objects (and even people) from a distance. Unlike traditional barcodes, RFID does not need a direct line of site to ‘see’ an object.

RFID technology solutions use a combination of tags, readers, software and networks to create a customised solution to track a wide range of valuable business assets, including vehicles. There are many different types of tags and readers used as part of an RFID technology solution.

What is GPS technology?

GPS stands for Global Positioning System. It uses satellite signals to communicate and track asset or vehicle location – signals are picked up by processors and an algorithm calculates the exact location. This is then communicated using a cellular network or alternative long-range system.

How are RFID and GPS different?

The biggest difference between RFID and GPS technology comes down to distance. RFID creates a ‘closed’ system within a process or workflow that identifies assets or vehicles as they move between fixed points in a defined system. GPS on the other hand provides asset or vehicle location in a global context in real-time without the need to be anchored by a fixed reader.

There are also differences in the cost of implementation of these two technologies, and practical considerations. For example, cellular and satellite GPS is far more costly to deploy, and therefore better for high value assets (think trucks and ships) that travel long distances across countries or between continents.

RFID technology on the other hand, is far more practical in smaller geographic areas and for large numbers of tagged vehicles due to the far lower cost of RFID tags.

How power consumption drives decisions for RFID and GPS technology

Whether using active or passive RFID solutions, their power demands are far lower than for GPS. GPS technology is very power-hungry for two key reasons:

  1. Signal processors: while processors today are much more power-efficient than older generations of the technology, they are required to perform a number of complex and power-intensive time calculations every second.
  2. Data transmission: once location information is processed, it needs to be transmitted, requiring a lot of energy. This can be observed when using GPS on a mobile phone in a car for directions with the consequent fast use of battery power.

RFID-based vehicle tracking systems require very little power, with passive tags using no power at all.

Car Fleet RFID Vehicle Tracking


RFID and GPS technology in action

To understand how RFID and GPS technology can work in different applications, we’ll use a couple of examples where vehicles need to be tracked.

Consider a large car dealership with hundreds or thousands of vehicles that might be spread over many acres of land or multiple dealership locations. Vehicles need to be serviced, prepared for sale, washed and located for delivery post-sale. In this instance, strategically placed RFID readers will track movement of ‘tagged’ vehicles to provide a pinpoint location of each vehicle at a moment in time.

Alternatively, consider a national trucking company with many long-haul vehicles travelling long distances between different states and covering thousands of kilometres in relatively short periods of time. With customer delivery demands and the need for safe operations to meet regulatory and safety guidelines, knowing where vehicles are located and distances covered is best communicated with GPS technology.

How RFID vehicle tracking solutions keep businesses moving

While GPS technology has its merits and benefits for asset and vehicle tracking, it is a much more one-dimensional solution with a focus on location data (especially over very long distances). RFID tracking systems add another dimension and provide a range of more nuanced benefits for tracking and managing vehicles. Here’s some of the major applications of RFID vehicle tracking:

Improved traffic and queue management: RFID technology can automate traffic and queue management at chokepoints in distribution chains such as warehouses, depots and ports, reducing manual human intervention and speeding up vehicle movement.

Automate weigh-bridges and checkpoints: Fast identification of trucks to match their measurements and weight to ensure compliance while reducing delays and improving accuracy.

Automate gates for faster vehicle flow: Gate automation keeps traffic moving faster and more efficiently with minimal to no human intervention.

Efficient dealership vehicle management: Track hundreds or thousands of vehicles from pre-sale right through to post-sale return visits to reduce labour costs and improve customer experiences.

Management of associated assets: Link trucks to associated assets including trailers, containers and pallets, as well as valuable inventory to provide complete visibility.

Accurate driver information: Adding visibility to vehicle tracking by linking to the person/s driving them helps increase security, safety and compliance.

Vehicle tracking Fleet of Vans

RFID and GPS technology working together

Most technology is fit for purpose, and the key to getting the most out of a technology investment is understanding when and how to deploy it effectively. Weighing up the relative costs of implementation, as well as practical considerations, will help determine whether to use RFID or GPS technology solutions for vehicle tracking.

In the car dealership example outlined earlier, cheaper RFID tags and strategically placed readers will be best for tracking over relatively small geographic areas. Vehicles are tagged when they arrive at the dealership, and once they leave (such as when sold), they do not need to be tracked any further.

But thinking about the long-haul trucking company, while GPS technology will help locate vehicles as they travel between cities, RFID technology can work hand-in-hand with GPS to create a more complete and efficient solution. RFID tracking systems will help at traditional supply chain chokepoints such as distribution centres, depots and ports, with tagged vehicles and fixed readers automating movement in and out to increase efficiency, save time and reduce costs.

Similarly, along with the prime mover, trucks come with a variety of associated assets such as trailers, containers and returnable items (pallets for example). As well as, of course, the valuable inventory they contain. RFID technology is able to close the loop for all these items to provide complete visibility on the movement of all items associated with a particular truck.

So for the long-haul trucking company, a clever combination of both RFID and GPS technology will offer a better solution than choosing either technology to be used on its own.

How to drive business efficiency with RFID technology

RFID vehicle tracking systems work well in combination with GPS technology for certain applications, or on their own for others. In Australia, customised RFID technology solutions for businesses are designed and implemented by RFID specialists such as RAMP.

Talk to RAMP to improve visibility of valuable assets and vehicles, increase operational efficiency, reduce costs, drive higher profits and make better business decisions.