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The three main components to a full tracking solution
There are three main components to a full tracking solution, the hardware, the airtime which includes activation, monthly, and usage fees, and the tracking platform software. These can also be broken into various customer supplied or various vendors for each component as well. You are not required to source every component from the same vendor, for example, you may like specific hardware for its features and another software platform for it's ease of use or flexibility. Lets run over each component and how they add up.
The hardware is simply a on time fixed cost but there are some manufacturers that subsidize the hardware costs by requiring their platform and/or airtime be contracted through them directly. Not many hardware manufacturers have this restriction but it is becoming more common so they have the least flexibility, as you need to review the full solution from them including airtime and tracking platform for your application.
Airtime can be the most complex component as there are so many options. The first cost is activation, which is common across all networks, satellite and GSM combined. The next cost will be the plan you choose to operate on from month to month. All networks have options for bundling airtime with the monthly service cost so you get X amount of data included for cost Y per month. Then if you go over X amount of data, you are billed an overage rate pre determined for that month. In order to calculate your airtime consumption, you can get a general feeling by taking the amount of position reports you need per month times the amount of data per position report based on the device you selected. This varies massively but we have common hardware airtime consumption numbers in the wiki at www.gsattrack.com/wiki. For example, the GSatMicro uses 10 bytes per position report and a Queclink GSM device uses 140-220 bytes per report. The last component to note about your airtime contract is the "minimum billing increment" which varies between satellite networks and GSM. For example, Iridium SBD 0KB has a minimum billing increment of 30 bytes and Iridium SBD 12KB has a minimum billing increment of 10 bytes. So if you select Iridium SBD 0KB and transmit a 10 byte message, you will be billed the minimum billing increment of 30 bytes instead. Finally, if you do enable encryption on your device there is a byte boundary required for encryption that will bump the message size up to a factor of 16 for common AES 256 bit encryption. For example if you transmit a 10 byte message, it will be rounded up to 16 bytes, and if you transmit a 17 byte message, it will be rounded up to 32 bytes.
Tracking Platform Software
The last component is the tracking platform software which is normally a monthly fee, and sometimes a small activation fee. Some solutions also have contract terms and more complex costs but this is typically the easiest component to calculate out of the full solution cost.
Once you have these three components you have a full overview of your projects upfront costs plus running costs and can easily determine the value vs. costs for your application. This is where the interesting comparisons come together to pit the operation costs of monitoring and management vs. the current solution. In most all cases, the monitoring costs are significantly lower by adding technology than having nothing at all.