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Focus... Containing Cargo Theft With Satellite Technology
author: Anu Sood, SkyWave Mobile Communications

skywave_g1_intro_sm1010 Cargo theft is an international phenomenon. While no definitive statistics are available as to how much cargo is stolen around the world, most agree the theft of goods during transportation or within a warehouse is a big problem. According to a 2007 EU Parliament report, the Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA) estimated the yearly losses across the European Union due to cargo theft from trucks to be approximately 8.2 billion Euros.

In the United States, estimates vary as to how much cargo is stolen, but expert estimates are as high as US$30 billion annually. Loss numbers often only includes the monetary value of the cargo stolen. Costs associated with replacement of goods, loss of business, reputation damage and price undercutting by the sale of stolen property are often not considered in the full economic assessment.

miteq_ad_sm1010 Cargo theft is usually carried out by highly organized groups or gangs. Proceeds from thefts are often used to finance other criminal activities and organizations. Given the players and the high stakes, it is not surprising that cargo theft is often executed in a very precise manner.

Goods and shipping companies employ many methods to deter cargo theft. Low-tech precautions such as locks offer some measure of protection. However, in many parts of the world where the risk of cargo theft is severe, such methods are not enough to deter cargo theft. High-tech solutions such as GPS-enabled tracking devices and monitoring solutions, which actively examine routes traveled by vehicles and determine location of stolen trucks and trailers, are essential to help mitigate theft and losses.

GPS-enabled tracking systems are common in the trucking industry and are deployed for both logistics and security applications. They provide trucking managers with many capabilities including the ability to quickly locate vehicles, coordinate pick-ups and drop-offs and calculate travel times. Many use cellular networks to relay information back to the logistic systems. However, in many high risk areas where cellular service is not uniformly available, or is prone to overloading or signal blocking, GPS-enabled tracking devices that communicate via satellite networks provide an additional protection measure.

SkyWave Mobile Communications (SkyWave), a provider of Inmarsat-based tracking and monitoring devices, has experienced high demand for its products to better manage fleets and deter cargo theft. According to Silvio Ostroscki, Sales Director for Latin America at SkyWave, Brazil is one country that makes extensive use of tracking systems that include satellite communication capability in order to reduce the risk of cargo theft.

“Insurance companies for high value cargo require the use of services of a recognized Risk Management company that make use of a satellite or dual-mode tracking system to monitor the status of the cargo full time until the cargo is delivered,” he says.

Most of SkyWave’s business in the region has been the sale of DMR series of satellite communication terminals to meet insurance company attempts to reduce the number of cargo theft incidents, which was reported to be a US$13 million per month problem in 2009 at a Highway Cargo Transport Symposium.


While the use of satellite-based GPS tracking devices have significantly decreased cargo losses, criminal theft rings are continuously finding new ways to steal cargo without being apprehended. For that reason, SkyWave recently introduced a number of new security features in its DMR-800 series of satellite communication terminals and SureLinx 8100 dual-mode satellite/cellular communication terminal to address evolving needs.

GPS Signal Jamming Detection
skywave_g3_sm1010 Originally used in military applications to confuse enemy navigational systems, GPS signal jammers are becoming common tools used by thieves. The devices interfere with the operation of on-board GPS chips on navigation and tracking devices, allowing thieves to steal trucks and cargo while leaving fleet managers and police unable to quickly detect that the truck has been stolen or its location.

Both the DMR-800 series and SureLinx 8100 terminals are now equipped with GPS signal jamming detection capability. They are able to detect when both continuous wave (CW) and wideband FM (also known as spread spectrum jammers) are interfering with the on-board GPS modules.

Sources of CW jamming can be malicious devices or unintentional sources such as clocks in computers and other electronic devices. Spread spectrum jamming typically comes from malicious devices that are in most countries illegal to own and/or operate.

If a CW jamming signal is detected, the DMR-800 and SureLinx terminals are able to provide an advanced warning to the fleet owner that the GPS capability of the device is being compromised. This provides the owner/operator the opportunity to investigate and correct, if the jamming is unintentional. If the jamming is intentional, it provides advanced warning to the driver, tracking company and fleet manager to exercise extra caution.

CW and spread spectrum jamming detection on the SkyWave terminals are based on configurable thresholds. Depending on the user’s environment and requirements, these thresholds can be adjusted by tracking service providers who understand how to configure and program SkyWave terminals.

lds_ad_sm1010 When either a CW or spread spectrum jamming threshold is reached, the DMR-800 and SureLinx 8100 tracking terminals can be programmed to execute a number of steps including sending a message to the fleet manager via satellite that GPS jammers have been detected. Using the sensor connection ports (serial and digital) tracking terminals can also alert the driver through a mobile/portable data terminal, a visual or auditory alarm to exercise caution. In the case of the SureLinx 8100 dual-mode satellite/cellular terminal, messages can also be sent to fleet managers via cellular networks.

Some tracking companies have gone as far as configuring the SkyWave tracking terminals to lock doors and activate horns when alarm conditions are detected.

GSM Jamming Detection
skywave_g5_sm1010 Similar to GPS jammers, GSM jammers are also becoming increasingly available. GSM jammers block or overwhelm GSM signals and prevent cellular-based tracking devices from sending position information and theft alerts. GSM jammers can also prevent drivers from using their cell phones to communicate.

When GSM signal jammers are being used, the SureLinx 8100 terminal has the capability to send a message via satellite that GSM signal jammers have been detected. As in the in case with GPS signal jammers, the terminal can also alert the driver through a mobile data terminal, a visual or auditory alarm.

Solutions For A Complex Problem
GPS and GSM jamming detection on SkyWave tracking terminals, combined with other features and security procedures provided by tracking and security companies, help to reduce the number of theft incidents. As cargo theft and the security of the supply chain will continue to be a global problem, goods manufacturers and cargo transporters who operate in high-risk areas, but still rely on low-tech security methods, will be forced to upgrade their security procedures to remain competitive and provide greater levels of customer service.

skywave_g6_about_sm1010 Those thinking about installing or upgrading their tracking devices need to ensure that the product and service that they select will service the current needs of all stake-holders as well as provide the opportunity to evolve as market forces change.