The logistics industry extensively utilizes shipping containers for the transportation of goods over long distances, whether domestically or internationally. These large metal boxes, with 20-foot and 40-foot dimensions being the most prevalent, are engineered to withstand the challenges of shipping and handling, providing a cost-effective means of transporting various products. Constructed from high-strength corrugated steel, these containers come with weather-resistant doors that ensure durability and resistance against the tough marine environment during transit.
Shipping containers are conveyed through diverse transportation modes. These modes include sea transport facilitated by cargo ships, rail transport through specialized container trains, road transport via trucks that have flatbed trailers, and air transport, usually with smaller containers, through cargo planes.
Moreover, these containers serve as temporary storage facilities in ports, warehouses, and construction sites, offering a secure and weather-resistant solution for storing goods.
According to a 2020 report by the World Shipping Council, there are approximately 23 million shipping containers in circulation globally. The majority of these containers are owned by shipping lines or leasing companies and are used to transport goods across oceans and continents.
The logistics industry has grappled with several issues over the years, particularly concerning security and tracking of shipping containers. One of the significant security challenges in the logistics industry is cargo theft. Criminals frequently target high-value cargo, and the lack of proper security measures and tracking systems makes it easier for them to steal. With mechanical locks, there is no way to know who has opened which shipping container door at what time in the shipping container journey. In addition many logistics companies still use outdated tracking systems or none at all, making it challenging to track shipments and locate missing cargo and containers. This situation can cause delays, increased expenses, and lost revenue.
As per a Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA) report, cargo theft results in a whopping $22 billion annual loss worldwide for businesses. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States, cargo theft causes losses of $15 to $30 billion each year. In Europe, TAPA's Incident Information Service (IIS) recorded 3,981 cargo theft incidents in 2020, with an average loss value of €212,361 per theft.
Specific scenarios and considerations
Improving current tracking and locking practices with 5G IoT smart padlocks can help solve cargo theft, but when grouped with advanced technologies such as big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and IoT, they can also enhance supply chain operations and overall efficiencies.
Limitations with existing tracking and locking practices
Whilst GPS technology has revolutionized shipping container monitoring and tracking, by providing real-time location information, they have many limitations, including their high power consumption, expensive costs, and high monthly service fees. Signals can be obstructed by various barriers, leading to inaccuracies and reduced availability. Moreover, the lack of encryption makes signals vulnerable to interception or spoofing attacks. As a result, the uptake of GPS technology in shipping containers has been low, with some estimates suggesting that less than 10% of shipping containers have any form of GPS.
When it comes to locking, there are several types of locks commonly used on shipping containers, such as padlocks, disc locks, and kingpin locks. However, these locks have many limitations. Metal key padlocks and standard mechanical combination locks do not capture data such as who opened the lock and when. Moreover, metal keys can be easily copied, which increases the risk of unauthorized access and cargo theft. Also it is challenging to distribute metal keys to the many various individuals who need access to shipping containers throughout their journey, including customs officials, freight forwarders, truck drivers, and shipping container personnel. Many customs officers from various countries often need to inspect shipping containers at ports and terminals to ensure that they comply with import/export regulations and do not contain restricted or prohibited items. Freight forwarders require access to the containers to manage shipment logistics, oversee loading and unloading operations, and ensure that the cargo is secure and protected during transport. Additionally, truck drivers, train and air personnel may need to access the containers to load and unload cargo or perform routine inspections to ensure their condition. Lastly, shipping company personnel such as port workers may need to access the containers to move them around the terminal, stack them, or load their contents onto ships or trucks.
To address these limitations, there is a need for a tracking and unlocking solution for shipping containers that is efficient, cost-effective, and meets cyber security and encryption needs. This solution should be able to provide accurate location information and ensure that only authorized personnel can access the containers. By overcoming these challenges, logistics companies can optimize their supply chain operations, minimize cargo theft, improve overall efficiency and save billions of dollars.
Product solution architecture
Digital Keys offers comprehensive end-to-end 5G IoT smart padlocks that connect to the internet and the cloud via cellular networks taking advantage of inbuilt mobile network security and encryption technologies. The smartlocks can track who opens which lock at which time, and have 5 opening methods including with digital keys mobile apps which can easily be shared online in seconds for one-time and/or time-sensitive use. These smartlocks require no onsite equipment and come equipped with SIM cards, 5G IoT modules, and sensors like open-close sensors, and also feature GNSS chips that enable GPS-style tracking (by utilizing a larger number of satellites and frequencies, GNSS technology surpasses GPS technology by delivering more precise and dependable location and timing information).
While cellular networks offer a secure, reliable, and efficient means of communication for 5G IoT smartlocks in urban areas, they can't connect to the internet in remote and rural areas, as well as at sea, where there is no mobile network coverage. For the shipping container application, where they are always moving around on sea and in remote areas, the 5G IoT will need to use a combination of cellular towers, and satellites for internet connections.
Current satellite solutions that provide cellular coverage in remote regions are proprietary, requiring specific hardware integration in user equipment, and have high connectivity costs, limiting the mass deployment of IoT devices in rural and remote areas. Therefore, only crucial services use satellite connectivity, and most IoT devices are not accessible when outside cellular networks.
Digital Keys is working with Satellite and IoT company Sateliot Ltd, who are building a wholesale IoT satellite connectivity service with small 'cubesat' satellites (under 10kg) launching in low earth orbit for mobile telecommunications operators implementing an extension of coverage that meets the future requirements of 3GPP (3GPP is the organisation that oversees mobile networks).
The IoT devices connect directly to the satellite. By transmitting directly to the satellite from the IoT device the connectivity is greatly simplified as there is no need to install, maintain and manage a gateway. Moreover the direct to satellite connection is performed by the same standard 5G IoT devices used with terrestrial networks, therefore, no dedicated hardware is used for the satellite connection.
The mobile network/satellite connected smart padlock not only has the potential to save companies hundreds of millions a year in cargo theft, but it can also help with an affordable tracking system, and improve management efficiencies.
Real Estate agents are looking for more efficient key management and open inspection practices to save them time and money. Digital Keys is helping RE companies build 'self inspection' systems.
Real Estate Inspections Use Case
Hospital storage use case
Patients may also be vulnerable to theft if they are incapacitated or have limited mobility, and storing metal keys for locked cabinets on their person with hospital gowns is difficult.
Electrical cabinets use case
Electricity companies are seeking connected electronic access control solutions with smart locks, digital keys and tampering alarms that are versatile enough to fit into various boxes and cabinets