Technologies used in telematics

Anyone looking into a telematics solution in their organisation - be it for safety, fleet management or otherwise, will come across a range of terms and technologies that can apply to different use cases and requirements. The following outlines the general concept of the technology and its relevant use cases in Telematics.

2G/3G/4G / Cellular Networks

These terms are all relatively mainstream now with the prevalence of mobile phones and the pursuit of fast mobile internet.

2G/3G and 4G are all different cellular technologies or bands that can be used to transmit information or data across existing cellular phone networks - that means if your phone is able to receive a signal - its' likely that your 2G/3G/4G telematics device will be able to as well.

So what are the differences between them? A G is a generation***.

Throughout the generations, technology has evolved to allow initially data throughput, before evolving the volume and the speed at which data is able to be transmitted. With 4G all transmissions are done through pure data - which means voice is sent via VoIP. As it currently stands 3G and 4G are usually seen operating collaboratively to provide traditional voice throughput, but with 4G providing faster data connections.

Cellular networks are used to transmit data and even allow voice calls when using telematics devices. Primarily it is used to communicate data back to the home server the vehicle or staff members' location. But it can also be used to communicate safety based features such as duress alarms, man-down features including falls or inactivity.


GPS is the acronym for Global Positioning System. It is in common usage a technology that uses global satellite systems to provide location information independently of any cellular, phone or internet reception.

GPS satellites transmit their current time and position continuously, with GPS receivers (GPS devices)  monitoring these satellite transmissions and using equations, are then able to determine its precise location. GPS devices run across some limitations including a requirement for unobstructed line of sight to the satellites (i.e. best used outside) they also require at a minimum 4 satellites' transmissions to be in view of the device for it to be able to calculate its location using these equations.

Almost every telematics device will utilise GPS to pinpoint their location.


When talking about satellite in regards to telematics, we are referring to satellite-based data and voice communication. This differs from GPS satellites which are designed for a different purpose.

Satellite communication and data relay is ideal for work in remote areas where cellular coverage (2G/3G/4G) isn't available. Satellite is able to transmit data as you would on a cellular network - but at a higher cost - which is why it's used as a secondary option behind cellular-based technologies

RF (Radio Frequency)

Radiofrequency uses electrical oscillations to transmit signals over distance. These RF signals are used for communications or radar signals.

In telematics, RF signals are used for short range (up to 200m) communications between a sender and receiver. Usually, the receiver is located in your vehicle as part of your AVL (automatic vehicle location) system, with senders carried by workers in hazardous or remote locations as an emergency switch should they come across trouble.

The limitation of RF devices is that whilst they are able to trigger signal, the signal needs to reach the receiver in the AVL, which then relays the signal via either cellular networks or satellite along with the GPS location of the vehicle. Because of this, the location of the user's emergency signal is an indication of distress and a general vicinity of the user i.e. they could be anywhere within a 200m range of the vehicle.


With the improving coverage of 3G and 4G cellular networks, devices using cellular networks to send a receive data are increasing in popularity and functionality.

In countries, such as Australia and New Zealand where there are large areas not adequately covered by cellular networks Satellite is still king of the remote and isolated communications and data. Increasingly we're seeing devices that work using a combination of cellular and satellite to reduce the operating costs, with the cellular network being the default and automatically shifting to satellite when cellular reception is lost.

Contact Smartrak today to learn about the best technology solution for your business needs.

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