April 8, 2019

In recent years, cellphone-based tracking has been used to increase visibility as one of the easiest ways to track shipments in real-time. Due to recent investigations and government scrutiny, the four main cell carriers have all pledged to disable cell-pinging services. With a wave of uncertainty sweeping the industry, let’s shed some light on what is changing and what we plan to do about it here at Spot.


As the need for real-time visibility increased, many transportation management systems (TMS) incorporated app-less tracking into their infrastructure. This method locates phones by pinging cell towers within a network to triangulate a location. Pinging had been touted as one of the easiest ways a company could use to track their freight. It provided the ability to locate a truck down to a few hundred meters without having to set up a large, costly, or difficult system.1

This type of tracking will soon be obsolete – Sprint and AT&T have already stopped sharing their location data, with T-Mobile and Verizon slated to quit in the coming months. 2 A group of senators recently called on the FCC and FTC to investigate the business dealings of these major telecoms following a wave of consumers worried about their privacy rights. 3 As it turns out, their concerns were valid. There have been multiple instances of networks selling location data to bounty hunters, private companies, and other unauthorized individuals without notifying the consumer that their information was being sold. 4 The fallout of this has reached the freight industry, as many companies look for new ways to locate shipments without disrupting visibility.


This development could have a huge impact on shippers and 3PLs who still rely heavily on app-less tracking. Once cell-pinging is no longer a part of their TMS, they could find it very difficult to access location data in real-time. If they are unable to find a new solution, it would greatly hinder their transparency efforts. In addition, many drivers still don’t have smartphones. Companies will now have to be more innovative when it comes to reaching drivers who do not have the ability to download a geolocation app. 

The news isn’t all bad – this could drive a positive shift towards utilizing the data coming from electronic logging devices (ELDs) that are now universally present in trucks across the U.S. The information that is pulled from an ELD is much more precise, reliable, and cost effective than cell triangulation, as well as less invasive for a driver using a personal cell phone. Plenty of companies have already switched to app-based tracking, with most companies using cell-pinging for less than 5% of their location tracking. 1 For those companies using other methods, this change won’t impact their workflow or visibility at all.


As app-less tracking becomes a thing of the past, we look towards new solutions to take its place. Most companies are now locating their freight with apps, ELD integrations, tracking sensors, AI-powered check calls, or some combination of the four.5 The tech world is taking advantage of this new market as well. Several iOS and Android applications, such as CarrierLink and FourKites, are entering the market that combine cellphone GPS and ELD data to produce a real-time location. Some carriers have direct API connections and websites that allow for tracking via ELD data. Physical sensors can also be placed in a trailer, on a pallet, or even on an item for location data.

Here at Spot, we are taking several steps to guarantee visibility and transparency throughout the entire process. When booking carriers, we aim for repeat utilization and ensure that they have 24/7 dispatch. Our Account Managers speak directly to a driver before booking a load and work with them to find the best method of tracking. Sometimes this is through a carrier website, sometimes it’s through our mobile website for drivers (RED DRIVER), other times we connect to GPS trackers placed on each trailer. We also have an internal 24/7 operations team that checks on loads every 2 hours. No matter the method, we make it a priority to monitor our shippers’ freight from Point A to Point B. Spot is also in the early stages of creating an in-house software application that will tie into the driver’s ELD to garner GPS coordinates and other data in real-time. This app would be an extension of our proprietary software, RED, which combines our shipper TMS, driver mobile app, and carrier portal.

If you’re interested in further discussing app-less tracking and our solutions, contact us here.



2 FreightWaves

3 Motherboard Vice Article 1

4 Motherboard Vice Article 2

5 Shipwell