Telemetry/Telematics: What’s the Difference?

The textbook definition of telematics is: the integration of “telecommunication” (previously wire-based and now wireless communication networks) and “informatics” (computing systems) used to analyze and automate decisions. If a system uses both technologies, it’s officially a telematics system. Talk about jargon…

Today, the word telematics almost always refers to a specific use case of this technology: tracking and monitoring the location and status of fixed and mobile assets such as trucks, vehicles, and other equipment, cargo, and drivers or remote staff.

Conversely, telemetry basically boils down to the “collection of data at remote points communicated to a central system.”

While it sounds like both terms refer to more or less the same thing, they’re typically used in different ways to describe very different systems.

In this article, we’ll define both terms, explain how they work (showcasing real examples of telematics and telemetry systems), and pinpoint the difference.

What is telematics? A definition in plain English

Telematics is a technology that uses a combination of telecommunications networks and “informatics,” aka computers and software, to remotely track and analyze different data points.

Today, a telematics system often uses a cellular network and GPS technology to track the location and status of different vehicles, drivers, employees, or other pieces of equipment or cargo.

The most common example of telematics is a system with tracking units installed in each truck (or other equipment) that includes a GPS tracking chip (to tell its location), a SIM card, and connectivity features (so it can communicate that location). The tracking unit can include its own power source (battery or solar panel) or plug into the power source of the vehicle or piece of equipment.

Some tracking systems are primarily app-based, measuring things like location, speed, and distance, all using data from the user’s smartphone. App-based systems can’t measure as many data points as ones with an embedded telematics control unit.

While a discreet telematics device is usually installed out of sight, many companies now also include video as part of the equation. Video telematics involves using dash cams and other cameras to analyze driving patterns in real-time to improve drivers’ habits and behaviors and to protect drivers who are falsely accused of unsafe driving.

How does telematics work?

The telematics device uses GPS to track its location and movements. It is connected to a software-powered dashboard via a cellular data network like 3G, 4G, or 5G. It is also typically connected to the vehicle’s engine control module (ECM) and measures things like speed, fuel usage, braking, OBD (on-board diagnostics) codes, and more.

Illustration of how Telematics systems work

There are two main “working parts” in a telematics system: a vehicle tracker and the software that analyzes the data, but it needs other technology, like GPS satellites and cellular networks, to work.

For example, the CalAmp LMU-3040™ is a lightweight and robust fleet tracker that includes state-of-the-art GPS (actually, GNSS for global coverage) tracking, an accelerometer, impact and motion sensors, and more.

When set up correctly, it communicates a variety of data points it collects itself (and that the vehicle’s computer shares) with the CalAmp Fleet Telematics application in real-time using an LTE connection.

That means a fleet manager can easily check up on any vehicle and see its status and location. For example, here, one vehicle is being towed while another is parked, which makes it easy to assign more work to the available vehicle.

CalAmp iOn dashboard

And what you can track goes way beyond just location. A robust telematics system will help you track the following:

  • Braking: for example, the frequency of harsh braking can indicate a tired or unfocused driver and increase the strain on the vehicle and the risk of incidents.
  • Speed: using both GPS and engine data, the telematics system can track how fast your drivers are going and also analyze any erratic patterns, average driving speed, and more.
  • Location: the tracking device uses geofencing powered by GPS satellites to accurately pinpoint the vehicle's location in real-time. That way, you can easily see which driver or staff member is closest to a new pickup or service gig.
  • State of vehicle & cargo: by plugging into the vehicle’s computer, you can track error codes (or diagnostic trouble codes) in real-time. Certain telematics devices or sensors allow you to track other crucial metrics like the temperature in a container.
  • Fuel usage: you can also track how much fuel each driver uses and log and compare the data over a specific period to contrast and compare driver performance.
  • Route: a telematics system doesn’t just track real-time location but also tracks and logs your drivers' routes. It can help you identify the most efficient routes for picking up and delivering goods.

The capabilities of these tracking devices vary based on the intended use case. For example, a telematics gateway will often capture the environmental conditions of cargo from multiple Bluetooth-enabled sensors inside a trailer or container, while the average vehicle tracker won’t include that as it is only designed to monitor details about the vehicle.

What is telemetry?

Telemetry means using equipment to remotely monitor the status of something (or someone).

While the textbook definition is similar to telematics, the term telemetry is often used to refer to use cases outside of fleet management — like the wireless measurement of patient vitals in healthcare or tracking of animal movements in conservation efforts.

How does telemetry work?

Modern telemetry systems will use a variety of sensors to track specific data points and then transmit this data to another system using WiFi or a cellular data connection.

Specifically, in healthcare, doctors and nurses can use “smart sensors” to measure their patients' body temperature, heart rate, and other data points in real-time.

Illustration of telemetry used in health care

While a telematics system analyzes the data and often automatically suggests solutions for specific problems (like scheduling maintenance based on vehicle usage), with telemetry, the data is measured and then plugged into a separate piece of software that makes sense of it.

It makes it easy for doctors to review the data manually, and it can set off alarms when there’s a big anomaly like a dangerous fluctuation in heart rate.

Of course, this is just one use case for telemetry. It has a variety of uses across a wide range of industries, but the applications are often similar.

What is the difference between telemetry and telematics?

By definition, telematics systems include computer-powered analysis and even automations, while telemetry is only the “remote measurement and reporting” part. In other words, telemetry is just a part, while telematics is the whole system.

Difference between telemetry and telematics

While there are differences at the level of definition, the most tangible difference lies in how the terms are commonly used to describe different use cases for similar technology.

Namely, telemetry is more often used for measuring health markers & locations of people/animals. Telematics is more commonly used for measuring and analyzing vehicle, equipment, cargo, and driving behavior.

Of course, these aren’t the only use cases for each of these technologies, but to highlight the differences, we’re featuring the most common ones.

While a telemetry solution technically only does tracking, most telemetry systems these days will come with a complete telematics ecosystem, including real-time analytics and even artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning-powered suggestions for the next actions to take.

What are the benefits of using fleet telematics?

In 2020, there were over 130 million telematics devices installed in vehicles around the world, and the market is predicted to almost triple to 375 million by 2026.

What gives? What’s driving this massive growth?

Well, the benefits of telematics include lower maintenance costs, reduced breakdowns, improved fuel efficiency, and improvements in driver safety and compliance. Taken together, these benefits are making companies invest in telematics at a faster rate than ever, especially given driver shortages, supply chain issues, high fuel costs, and other current market and economic challenges.

The benefits of fleet telematics

Increased safety

Want to reduce instances of reckless driving and improve driving safety for your drivers on the road? One study from the Department of Transportation showed that simply installing a telematics system that tracks the drivers can reduce instances of sudden acceleration, hard braking, and other indicators of bad driving habits by 50%.

It also decreased the distances driven at speeds more than 65 mph by 33% for day cabs and 42% for the sleeper cab groups.

Boost fuel efficiency

The same study also showed a noticeable increase in fuel economy. On average, sleeper cab drivers with a telematics system installed used 9% less fuel than the control group. Day cab drivers used 5% less, on average.

While this may not sound significant, fuel costs are the biggest expense related to shipping goods, especially in 2022, when soaring fuel costs are putting increasing pressure on trucking companies around the globe. In the US, the average price per gallon soared to over $5 per gallon, with even more extreme prices in California.

That means that fuel is likely to be an even larger part of the operational costs than it normally is, so every percentage point you can shave off is going to be more impactful than ever.

Lower maintenance costs

Another benefit of safe, controlled driving habits among all your drivers is less wear and tear on your vehicle.

Plus, your telematics system can monitor on-board diagnostics in real-time to identify potential issues and preemptively schedule maintenance to keep your entire fleet in tip-top shape at all times.

More effective allocation of work

Whether your fleet does shipping, logistics, field service, or something else entirely, knowing where your drivers are makes it a lot easier for managers to allocate work effectively.

For example, if a last-minute shipment comes in, there’s a big difference between having to manually call drivers and ask them where they are and being able to see where a truck is and the status of the truck and driver at any given time.

Improvements in routing

Location data isn’t just helpful in the moment. You can also use historical location data to compare the efficiency of different routes and make decisions that can help make your fleet more effective.

For example, you may notice patterns like a specific highway being jammed with traffic during certain times, and you can create a route that allows you to get around that issue and save time and money on fuel.

Faster emergency response

If your telematics system has a crash alert system like CalAmp’s CrashBoxx®, it can automatically alert you, your insurance provider, and emergency services in the event of a crash.

Impact measurement and other data can also help you reconstruct the accident and try to figure out what happened leading up to the accident and in the aftermath. This can also help to exonerate drivers from false claims.

Ensure cargo safety

With the right telematics solution, you can even ensure the safety of your cargo with temperature measurements and three-axis motion tracking.

The motion tracking helps identify and minimize any potential impact damage on the goods caused by rough driving or rough roads. Temperature tracking helps ensure that chilled goods always stay within their recommended temperature range.

Leveraging telematics for more effective fleet management

It’s almost self-explanatory that telematics is a crucial part of effective fleet management. After all, without data, how will you know what’s wrong and whether what you’re doing is working?

Telematics fleet management graphic

When applied right, telematics can help you diagnose and fix a diverse range of problems, like inefficient or reckless driving, a high instance of vehicle breakdowns, or a slow and inefficient fleet.

The key is to implement it into your organization in the right way. Here are a few tips to help you start leveraging the benefits of telematics:

  • Use reliable telematics devices, not simplistic smartphone-based solutions with limits on useful tracking data that are prone to be lost or stolen and will quickly drain the battery when GPS tracking is turned on. We may be biased, but it’s simply a fact that you get access to more reliable data points with a physical telematics device that can remotely compute and analyze data over just an app that leverages a phone’s unreliable GPS data.
  • Train your fleet managers, dispatchers, and other key staff members in the telematics software. It doesn’t matter if they theoretically have access to the data if they don’t know how to get to it or analyze it.
  • Outline key roles and responsibilities: for example, who’s responsible for keeping track of the diagnostic trouble codes and scheduling maintenance?
  • Work closely with your telematics provider. They’ll understand the scope of what their solution can do and enable the most important features to address your specific use cases and operational challenges. Get their help in making that vision a reality.
  • Configure alerts and schedule reports to be automatically sent to the appropriate managers so that they can ‘manage by exception’ and take action when an alert or report shows an out-of-bounds condition.
  • Use a telematics vendor’s professional services resources to address unique business, market, or organizational challenges that will dramatically improve your competitive advantage.

Video and the future of telematics

When telematics systems first arrived, all they did was track location, speed, and a few other metrics. Because of slow connection speeds, the updates often only happened a few times per hour.

Today, you have real-time access to a wealth of different data points about every vehicle in your fleet. AI and Machine learning algorithms even step in to help your staff make sense of the data and, in some cases, even enable audible in-cab alerts to improve safe driving and make decisions like automatically scheduling maintenance based on certain error codes.

Plus, with the advent of video telematics, you can now track cues in driver behavior that indicate that they might need to take a break or even a nap to return to their safe driving habits.

Video-Based Safety works in tandem with our vehicle trackers, triggering recordings based on driver actions (like harsh braking, sudden acceleration, and more), so you can see if the drivers are simply responding naturally to their situation (like another driver suddenly changing lanes), or driving recklessly.

And video is only the beginning. As the “Internet of Things” (IoT) keeps expanding and more and more devices go smart, there’s an increased potential for insights into new areas of your fleet and business.

The future of telematics

But it’s not just hardware. There are also developments within the software itself. Many companies are now starting to offer “mobility as a service,” which leverages telematics to deliver smarter transportation options to consumers. At this point, you’ve more than likely seen some e-scooters for rent lounging on a sidewalk in your hometown.

In an interview with Fleet Owner, Schneider’s chief information officer, Shaleen Devgun, summed up the potential of telematics nicely:

“Whether it's information about how the equipment is functioning or how the driver is driving the truck, there's a lot of that information that we're now able to derive from these telematics platforms. We can use it to make decisions across the enterprise. We can use it to make decisions around optimizing our network. We can use that information derived through or collected through telematics to make safety decisions.”

As you access more data points from new connected devices, the key is making decisions based on this connected intelligence to ensure your operations run efficiently and safely.

Conclusion

While telemetry and telematics sound similar and work with the same data, you need a telematics solution if you want to do more than just measure data remotely.

Telematics systems can help you monitor specific data points like speed and location, identify patterns of behavior, and lead to safer driving across your fleet.

And it doesn’t hurt that increased fuel efficiency and lower maintenance costs are some of its other benefits.

If you’re ready to bring your fleet into the 21st century, explore CalAmp’s telematics and fleet tracking devices.

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