Article | 06 June 2023

Always-on: Wireless networks in the logistics industry

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Written by
Wilmer van Dijk, Head of Operations The Netherlands

International trade once relied on people: adventurous merchants carrying silk and spices on carts and camels. Then it relied on paper: bills of lading and letters of credit, moving money across borders as networks of trust developed. Later still, it relied on vehicles: trains, ships, and planes, with a single twenty-foot sea container carrying many tonnes of cargo.

The modern logistics sector still relies on all those things. But it’s added one more: data.

Today, every vehicle and route, every container and pallet, every parcel and envelope floats on a river of data. Every time a wand scans a barcode or a package is parked on a shelf, its identity and position are added to vast databases – with the data used to track, manage, and provide innovative services, all the way to the customer’s door.

These businesses live or die on the quality of their data – and the speed it travels. With similar-sized fleets and services they offer, data is often the only competitive advantage they have.

And that requires connectivity. Specifically, wireless connectivity. Vans can’t be tethered by cables; handheld terminals need to let people walk around; a wired WAN won’t work when a temporary warehouse needs to be built in a week, and even less when located close to distant ports.

But not any wireless. The need for always-on bandwidth and a 24/7 operational model means consumer-grade wireless services don’t make the cut. At least not for the logistics & transport industry.

Let’s look at the issues affecting logistics and supply management players – and put our solution into the mix.

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The location issue: being where the bandwidth isn’t

That package that arrived on your desk didn’t roll straight off a ship; its final journey probably started at a local Distribution Centre (DC). Modern DCs are big, and getting bigger – which means they can’t be located in town centres. These giant warehouses are on suburban sites or roadside business parks, where land is cheap and major roads close. But these are also low-population areas where fast broadband infrastructure isn’t a thing.

With a lack of fibre in the ground and fewer cell towers around for mobile, getting connectivity to DCs is a headache for the logistics biz - but also where fixed wireless access shines. Yes, it uses public cellular networks, making for competitive costs – but with the right setup it can bring enterprise-grade LTE/5G broadband to even an out-of-coverage area. More on how it works as we go on.

The timing issue: things change ­– fast

Adding to the location problem is the speed at which logistics companies have to adapt. Distribution centres aren’t meant to be pretty but functional. A single large customer may create the need for 10 of them in a specific location, fast; conversely, the end of a contract may turn a busy hub silent in the space of a few months.

Logistics infrastructure is transient. Which means a new warehouse can’t wait for fibre to be sunk into the ground.

Again, fixed wireless can step up. With no cabling infrastructure needed, setup can go fast – but just as importantly, it’s ready to change when your needs do. If one warehouse has to close while another needs to expand 5x, a fixed wireless solution can adapt at the same pace without huge costs of equipment replacement.

With fixed wireless broadband, fast-changing connectivity needs simply aren’t a problem.

The always-on issue: no time for downtime

When online retailers offer next-day shipping and rely on logistics partners to deliver, even a few moments of downtime can delay a parcel for days, as a missed scan holds up a consignment’s journey from port to local DC to last-mile van. This means any connectivity has to be always-on, with guaranteed SLAs to ensure so.

You might wonder how Blue Wireless manages this, since our solutions use those same public mobile networks. It’s how we build a robust service with it: dual-SIM for network redundancy, enterprise-grade Cradlepoint routers, and an expert team behind to support it all. It’s mobile connectivity, but not as consumers know it.

The volume issue: “gotta connect ‘em all”

It’s a cliché to say the world is connected. Yet the real shift in the last decade or so hasn’t been about connecting people, but connecting things.

A modern distribution centre isn’t so much a building as a temporary meeting point, with thousands of vehicles, badges, workstations, smart tags, handheld devices, and other technology interacting on SD-WANs and IoT. And they all need connectivity.

That means more bandwidth than some networks have to spare. Fortunately, fixed wireless again provides the answer.

A single directional antenna – like the Poyntings we love at Blue Wireless – can boost the signal from a distant cell tower, “bringing the network closer” for improved bandwidth. And the routers it works with – we use Cradlepoint – can also accommodate multiple SIM cards, giving you redundancy when you need it. And if one network has issues, your connectivity simply “fails over” to another.

Wrapping up: how Blue Wireless can help

So fixed wireless can answer all the big problems of logistics and distribution. It’s got:

  • The short rollout times, able to adapt fast
  • The SLAs to keep your business flowing
  • It's available where you need it, even if the “where” is outside a normal network coverage area
  • With bandwidth in the quantities you need. In fact, with LTE/5G, the bandwidth it offers is now business-scale, capable of running a busy SD-WAN wirelessly worldwide.

But there’s one more factor that matters – and it’s probably the most important: experience.

So before we talk, understand that Blue Wireless already works with some of the world’s biggest logistics and distribution companies. Meaning we know our way around a warehouse and the challenges of connectivity you face. Simply because we’ve done it all before. And we’d like to do it for you.

Talk to

Wilmer van Dijk, Head of Operations

Every day, we help service providers and end customers to succeed in a wireless world. Let us help you too.

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