RFID GPS Tracking System – Orion Data Network

The Orion RFID GPS tracking system has been built for logistics management and asset protection. It removes the need to use the GSM or mobile network for communications. This reduces the purchase price and eliminates the running costs when compared to traditional GSM/GPS devices such as those currently being used in the plant tracking sector. The Orion network is not designed to replace GSM based systems on high value assets but rather to offer a level of protection to assets where the return on investment for GSM/GPS solutions was not good enough. However, the reality today is that the Orion tracking system is starting to replace GSM/GPS tracking systems because of the huge price difference. This page sets out to explain the workings and limitations of the system.

System Evolution Orion GPS RFID Tags

Most GSM/GPS asset tracking systems protection solutions use an RF ID element in the final stages of the recovery process. The concept is that the GSM (and GPS when available) gets the recovery team close enough to the asset to find it using a short range, hand held scanner. The lower frequency used by the RF ID means that the signal penetrates and works in areas where GPS and GSM will not.

The Orion network GPS tracking system is based on taking this to the next level. There are over one hundred mobile scanners backed up by an increasing number of fixed sites at strategic locations. The range of the RFID is greatly improved and the result is that a national network is starting to emerge. The entire system has been designed and built in the UK. It is optimised to communicate small packets of data over wide areas, quickly and in an asynchronous mode. It was called Orion, after the Greek hunter because it is a listening network, on the lookout for specific devices.

Fixed Sites

Orion GPS Tracking System. The Wireless SIM free GPS Tracking Systems.

Fixed sites are referred to as ‘gateways’, mobile sites are referred to as scanners. Very often it is the same piece of equipment. The number of fixed sites grows in different ways. Resellers typically install gateways at their various offices and sites. This is a small but significant element because of the location of these offices. The majority of gateways are sold to users of tags, the generic name for the various types of long range RFID beacons discussed in the next section.

The list of current and potential customers is wide and varied. Some are looking at large scale logistics solutions, where they will be mixing different tag types on each site. These customers include chains of national retailers. To put it in context, there are nearly 10,000 sites under discussion or programmed for roll out in 2013.

Then there are the specialist security applications that are being installed in towns. These gateway sites are for monitoring everything from manhole covers to parked bicycles. Very often the use of the tag is being combined with the CCTV and therefore the gateways are being co-located with the cameras.

Then there are customers looking for an asset protection solution. Typically they own national fleets and as such the gateways get rolled out to each depot. This provides them with day to day asset visibility and audit capabilities. Each of these gateways is connected to the Orion servers through Ethernet or in some cases the GSM network. Customer applications are unique but it is similar in concept to sharing WiFi. Devices can roam freely between gateways so that everyone benefits from their own gateway infrastructure and everyone else’s.

Gateways themselves are low cost and easy to install, they simply plug into a router. This means the process of rolling out large numbers of gateways for new customer sites is comparatively easy. All the gateways commission themselves onto the server. The process has been around in different forms for five years and it is an evolution of the technology rolled out to Network Rail, who have purchased around five thousand tags and gateways to date.

Active GPS Tags

Tags themselves come in many different formats, each for a different application. There are GPS tags. These are the special, long life, positioning tags. GPS tags have large batteries, water proof cases and are capable of multiple modes. Then there are GPS tags that have reduced functionality but still have 3D accelerometers built in and a range of different capabilities. Then there are a range of very low cost, short range, ‘fire and forget’ logistics tags. Each type is tailored to the customers’ requirements so as to reduce components and therefore cost. GPS tags are one of the very few generic types that are in use with multiple customers and all behave identically.

For asset protection the GPS tags is the tag product to use. It is a small package with a three year battery life. It is possible to replace the battery but only at the UK factory as it comes in a sealed IP67 case. The GPS tags have been based on the knowledge and experience gained for over 500 recoveries in the UK. The GPS tags address the asset protection market and are therefore the most generic of all the tag types. As a security product the details of their workings are not discussed in print. However, they are available for trial and demonstration.

The Business Case for GPS tags

Orion GPS RFID tags are very low cost. There are no further costs associated with it unless it’s stolen and recovered, in which case there is a call out fee for the recovery. In this respect the cost model is the same as for GSM/GPS equipment. Companies either have their own recovery teams that work closely with the Police or outsource the solution to a third party.

Notionally, GSM/GPS solutions should have a higher recovery rate, particularly whilst the Orion network is still relatively under developed. The rationale therefore is that this system does not entirely replace the GSM/GPS equipment, at least not on day one. Rather the system addresses a gap in the market where there is plenty of equipment that gets stolen but it does not warrant the cost of a GSM/GPS solution.

Where the Orion GPS tags system really scores is below the £25,000 asset value mark. The reasoning can be expressed as a ratio of the cost of either system versus the return from the investment.

Given the low cost of the Orion system, the critical figure is the recovery rate. If the Orion system recovers one in five units and the GSM/GPS system recoveries four out of five systems, the return on investment is matched for both systems. To put it another way, the GSM/GPS system can only ever achieve 100% reliability. The Orion system matches the return on investment at a 25% recovery rate.

However, return on investment figures are not everything. They are important to businesses more than individuals because it is a measure across a whole population or fleet of assets. If the assets are low value, four times as many can be covered for the same cost, or the cost is only 25% of that of the GSM/GPS system for the same number of assets. Since security equipment is a ‘grudge’ purchase and attacks are not uniform or predictable, a wider net is often a better bet.

Individuals by contrast are usually only concerned with one item that is likely to be stolen. Here the result is either black or white, stolen and recovered or lost forever. Therefore the recovery rate per item becomes even more important as its not being averaged across a fleet.

However, two things begin to change the current assumptions. It is relatively obvious that as the Orion based recovery rates improve with the number of systems deployed, protecting an individual asset makes more sense. Secondly and not so obviously, is that the nature of much of the criminal activity has changed and that ultimately the recovery rates for GSM/GPS may be overstated at 80%. A recent article from the insurance industry quoted across the board recovery rates for cars as low as 20% for 2011. The reason being that many more thefts are done professionally, using simple and cheap GPS jammers and even GSM jammers. Put simply, the Orion system may well be the most efficient solution for individuals because the high value GSM/GPS systems are not as effective today due to the changing nature of criminal attacks.

Types of Attack

There are only a small number of ways a criminal gang can process plant, machinery and vehicles. The first option is to get the stolen item to a holding or quarantine area. This might be a public place like a multi-storey car park. Usually these areas are close to where the item was stolen from to minimise the initial exposure and the risk of being caught on CCTV or ANPR systems. The logic being that, if the stolen item is still there a few days later, it is safe to move it on. Evidently no one is tracking it.

The second option is to park the item up for a longer time, sometimes many months. This seems to happen more for plant than vehicles, probably because of the more sophisticated identification systems on vehicles. Travellers have even been known to bury plant in polythene and dig it up a year or more later.

The third option is to move the goods out of the country, usually through a container port but sometimes simply on a low loader. This may happen immediately or after a quarantine period. Very often this reflects the fact the vehicles or machinery are being stolen to order by overseas gangs.

With items such as cars, vans and trucks where there is a good market for spare parts in the UK, vehicles are sometimes taken to a site and quickly broken down. This can take as little as an hour. They may even be totally reworked with a new identity, usually cloned from a written off vehicle.

In all these cases the Orion network makes life very difficult for the gang. The ports are covered. (Technically still in the process of being covered but the system does not officially launch until December 1st). Holding areas such as multi-storey car parks do not inhibit the signal nearly so much as it does for GPS and GSM, so any fixed site or roving mobile unit will detect the tag. Importantly with this type of crime you already know that the stolen item is likely to be parked up within a couple of miles of the attack. More rural holding areas are likely to concentrate tags increasing the likelihood of being found as transmission ranges increase dramatically, especially with regard to air units. It is worth bearing in mind that an air unit can cover a whole county in a matter of tens of minutes. A plane or helicopter at 4,000 feet is effectively scanning 200 square miles at time. (The whole of mainland Great Britain is only 89,000 square miles. Assuming an airspeed of one hundred knots, the scanned area spreads out in a series of overlapping circles along the flight path. The leading edge of which is moving at just over 1.9 miles a minute, that is around 15 square miles a minute of new ground. That is five hours flying time to cover all the urban areas in Britain).

Importantly, it is not possible to buy an ‘off the shelf’ jammer for the Orion system in the same way as it is possible to buy GSM or GPS jammers. This means for a gang trying to creating a ‘safe’ processing area it is much harder. Every asset brought into the gang’s area of operations brings with it an increased chance of detection. Finally there is the nature of the tag itself. They are small, easy to hide and cheap enough to distribute widely. This makes it really hard for a gang processing assets through a site to be sure that no tags have slipped through. Since it only takes one the odds are not in their favour. It also means that exporting the items is no longer an easy option. Containers stop GSM and GPS but not GPS tags. Anything delivered to the port can be spotted as the containers are usually sat around for hours or days before they are loaded onto a ship.

The truth is that criminal gangs operate like businesses and have well documented procedures and processes for dealing with the existing tracking technologies. They are invariable caught when these processes go wrong. It is the sheer scale of their operations that leads to their downfall. As has been seen with this technology in other areas of criminal activity, if a gang makes one attack a week, they will be caught within a month, so long as every item they take is being tracked. Typically this is because there is a regional bias to the attacks and like a Trojan horse, they bring the tracked item into their own base of operations.


The technology behind the Orion GPS tags system has been around for years in one form or another. It has been responsible for millions of pounds worth of equipment being recovered and as a consequence, over one hundred arrests made. What is happening now is a ‘join the dots’ exercise to create a national asset recovery and logistics management system. As with all networks, it will be subject to continual growth and improvement as new customers are added and new gateways rolled out.

The fact is the Orion GPS tags based solution is only 25% of the price of the commonly available GSM/GPS based solutions. This makes it a game changer in the asset protection industry.