At least one major application-specific, RFID-based technology — from I.D. Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ: IDSY) — has the added advantage of having been formally tested by the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and approved for use at US airports by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
GPRS is another popular technology for wireless GSE management. Its main advantages are that it can be deployed quickly and does not touch the local area network at all. But there are many limitations to this technology that make it less than ideal for truly comprehensive, long-term GSE fleet management:
- First and foremost, like any cellular service, GPRS requires ongoing subscription fees, per vehicle per month (for the entire life of the vehicle). This makes it prohibitively expensive to conduct true real-time location tracking, perform time-motion studies, direct work activity, or even collect more than a minimal amount of GSE fleet data.
- GPRS cannot handle an unlimited number of vehicles simultaneously.
- GPRS often has poor or non-existent coverage indoors, and it relies solely on GPS for location data, which does not work at all indoors.
- GPRS systems rely completely on third-party wireless networks and servers, which represent single points of failure that could compromise system or data integrity, and which put system data security and problem remediation beyond the control of local airport resources.
- GPRS bandwidth is usually available — as long as one is willing to pay for it — but, like any cellular network, GPRS is susceptible to saturation and shut-down during times of emergencies (reference cellular networks on 9/11).
Wi-Fi (802.11) systems share a few of the advantages of RFID systems — most notably unlimited wireless data transmissions at no cost, and the ability to work indoors. However, Wi-Fi has many technical challenges that render it the least desirable of the three primary wireless options for GSE fleet management.
First, Wi-Fi has a short range and propagates poorly, which translates into poor coverage outdoors and expensive infrastructure requirements indoors. Likewise, to achieve a high degree of indoor location tracking accuracy, a Wi-Fi system requires an extensive — and expensive — infrastructure installation.
Also problematic is the dependence of Wi-Fi vehicle hardware on the wireless network. If a vehicle goes out of RF range, or a WLAN access point goes down, the system might cease to perform critical fleet management functions, like vehicle access control (driver authentication). Each vehicle also requires an individual network IP address, which can mean IT maintenance and periodic upgrade costs for hundreds, or even thousands, of vehicles.
At a system level, Wi-Fi fleet management has additional areas of concern. All data processing is performed by a central server, which represents a significant single point of failure; if the server goes down, every vehicle is affected. The high flow of IP data to and from the server also consumes a large amount of network bandwidth, which can adversely impact other applications running on the network. Finally, Wi-Fi networks utilize the open 802.11 standard, which is susceptible to attacks by hackers. The security encryption that would be required to use Wi-Fi for GSE management (think access control for fuel trucks) introduces additional system costs, complexities and regulatory concerns.
About the Author: Greg Smith is a vice president of I.D. Systems Inc.
The company announced that the carrier has selected the AvRamp™ Wireless Vehicle Management System to manage a fleet of aircraft GSE at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.