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Telematics firm on track for growth with managed SIMs and IoT

Fleet-tracking company Protrack is using a managed SIM card and internet of things services to improve its customer services posture and enter new markets

Fleet-tracking and logistics services provider Protrack Solutions has improved the quality of service it offers its customers, and is expanding into new markets after hooking up with machine-to-machine (M2M) and internet of things (IoT) technology supplier Bamboo.

Protrack’s core offering is a telematics solution – Protracker Plus – that previously operated on single-network SIM cards and lets its customers track their vehicles in real time with GPS data, providing information on driving performance factors such as acceleration, braking force and speed.

However, until recently it had been forced to use inflexible, single-network SIM cards that could not deliver universal and reliable network coverage around the UK. This was holding the company back from scaling its business and delivering predictable services to its customers.

With no single cross-carrier service in existence, at first the firm launched Protracker Plus with multiple single network SIMs for each vehicle, says Protrack operations and support director Tracey Pope. But this was far from ideal and failed to eliminate the blackspot problem entirely, he says.

Also, multiple carriers and tariffs made it extremely hard for Protrack to manage its network of devices and vehicles, while operational costs were starting to get out of hand.

Its previous supplier further complicated things by taking up to two months to deliver a bill, which meant that if a device was, say, malfunctioning and consuming too much data, Protrack would be unaware until the bill arrived. On one occasion, it received a £15,000 demand for a single compromised device.

“A telematics solution is only as good as the connectivity that powers it,” says Pope. “Poor connectivity was hampering the quality of our products. It was undermining our entire business, so we needed a solution fast.”

Pope turned to Bamboo to design a bespoke M2M tariff with Telefónica, which provides 4Mb of inclusive data for every SIM while taking advantage of the telco’s multiple network roaming agreements to deliver connectivity not just around the UK, but across Europe and, theoretically, many other countries where customer vehicles might travel.

In practice, this means Protrack managed devices can now switch to the network with the strongest signal at any particular time, without the worry of roaming charges should it leave the UK.

Also, Bamboo is pooling the 4Mb allowance per SIM across all SIMs on a customer contract, which means that if one uses more than its quota, it can be offset against another using less. On averag,e a Protrack-run device tends to use 2Mb a month, so bill shock has been effectively eliminated.

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Using Cisco’s Jasper IoT platform, Protrack can also benefit from real-time reporting and customisable usage alerts to alert it to any issues and arrange for faulty devices to be replaced, in many cases before customers notice anything is wrong.

The peace of mind that comes from the pooled data tariff and the Jasper management service means Pope has been able to start work on developing new telematics solutions without being concerned about issues.

“It doesn’t matter how good we make a product, if it hasn’t got network access, it’s scrap,” he says. “We are able to build more products with SIMs in them because we now have more confidence in them.”

Protrack is currently working closely with Bamboo to develop connectivity for a smart padlock that it hopes will revolutionise physical security across multiple verticals.

The idea for the smart padlock came from Pope’s brother, who bought a high-end performance motorbike with an easily-compromised chain and padlock that cost him an additional £300 or so, but only reduced his insurance premium by about 5%.

The smart padlock is currently in development, with availability set for later this year, but Protrack has already had expressions of interest from a number of customers that cannot, for now, be named. Pope says many of them work in areas such as construction and have heavy and valuable equipment located on distributed sites that need securing temporarily.

The planned product – only a prototype existed at the time of writing – will be keyless and operated by a four-digit code, which means each one will theoretically be able to support up to 9,999 users. Users will be able to see who has unlocked the device, where and when, and it will also be able to tell its owner when or if it has been attacked with, for example, a hammer or angle grinder. Such data can be useful to the police in the event of a break-in.

Other planned features, says Pope, include time restrictions on when it can be opened, one-day codes to give temporary workers access to sites, or geofencing for goods in transit, which means consignments can only be opened at their destinations.

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