Five Tips for Evaluating In-Vehicle Network Solutions

OBD Networking Connectivity

Increasingly Connected Fleet Vehicles Necessitate Best Practices

For commercial and public vehicle fleet managers everywhere, reliable and secure internet connectivity is a top-of-mind priority. Fleet vehicles are becoming complex and highly computerized machines, and fleet managers are racing to find the right connectivity solutions to maximize vehicle efficiency and on-the-road time.

Whether you’re replacing legacy in-vehicle hardware or completely new to in-vehicle networks, keep in mind these five best practices for evaluating, choosing, and preparing to install an in-vehicle network.

1. Consider the solution’s GPS or AVL capabilities.

Today, GPS and AVL systems are critical components of effective vehicle fleet management. Fleet managers need to be able to monitor vehicle speed, route, and location at any time, and record data for future review. Further, many fleet managers must be able to report such data to multiple entities. If this is true for your organization, consider your current and potential future GPS reporting needs.

  • To whom do reports need to be sent?
  • In what format should reports be delivered?
  • Over which medium should they be delivered? (TCP/IP or COM port? TAIP or NMEA format?)

Start with these questions, then narrow your list of potential solutions to ones that can accommodate or enhance your current and future needs.

2. Choose a solution that can handle the volatile electrical environment of a vehicle.

A general-purpose wireless router isn’t going to last very long in an in-vehicle setting. From the voltage drops that occur whenever the operator turns the ignition to spikes that can occur if the voltage regulator goes out, power fluctuations occur frequently and need to be planned for.

  • Consider whether you need a DC power converter.
  • Evaluate whether a power conditioner is needed to protect the router from “dirty” power.
  • Choose a router with a voltage input range of 9-36V.
  • Look for a solution that not only protects against power fluctuations, but also reverse polarity.

3. Consider whether the router should stay powered on when the vehicle is shut off.

In certain contexts you’ll want the router to stay powered up, such as when you need a vehicle to offload data during its down hours or when your operator might be turning the vehicle on and off multiple times each day,.

  • Will you make the operator flip a power switch to turn power to the router on and off?
  • Alternatively, does your router need to have ignition-sensing? Should it only shut off at a certain interval after the ignition turns off?
  • Do you want the router on 24/7? In this case you’ll potentially wire the router directly to the vehicle battery.

Know what makes the most sense for your application, and choose a solution that can accommodate those needs.

4. Consider your on-board diagnostics (OBD) and telematics needs.

Telematics reporting is poised to become increasingly prevalent over the coming years, so it’s critical to choose a solution with advanced capabilities to transmit such data. A purpose-built in-vehicle router can serve as the cellular conduit between the vehicle and third-party tracking platforms. Besides GPS, you can remotely track a wide variety of analytics — for example,  idle vs. driving for commercial trucking. The result is a much more granular view of fleet efficiency.

In addition to the ability to transmit telematics data, consider how a router solution addresses the need for always-on connectivity and wireless-to-wireless failover in case of a carrier outage or coverage gap.

5. Choose an external antenna.

A vehicle’s metal body panels, glass, and window tinting all can hinder the cellular signal. Plan to purchase antennas designed for external use to maximize performance and reliability. Viable solutions range from permanent roof-mounted antennas to MagMount or temporary models for almost any scenario.

The highest, most centered point of a roof is the best spot to install an antenna, for radio efficiency. Select an antenna solution that works well with the frequencies available from the cellular carrier you’ve selected. For instance, some antennas have higher gain in the 700Mhz range, where others focus more on say 1900-2500Mhz; the former supports Verizon better, while the latter supports Sprint better.

Learn More About In-Vehicle Considerations

For an in-depth look at how to evaluate in-vehicle solutions, download our In-Vehicle Buyer’s Guide.