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Roll-off containers are precisely the sort of returnable assets that their owners need to track. Considering their high cost - averaging anywhere from $3,000  to $5,000 each - and the fact that they're always on the move, knowing where they are is critical to ensuring that they're not under-utilized, misplaced, forgotten, or stolen.

Unfortunately, the theft of roll-off containers is not that uncommon. For someone with the means and equipment, they make attractive and potentially lucrative targets.

For that reason, many container owners look to using roll-off container GPS tracking as part of an asset tracking and management solution. The idea that you can open up a map application and immediately locate it out in the world isn't without its appeal. However, there are definite pros and cons associated with using roll-off container GPS tracking technology versus traditional barcode and RFID tagging.

GPS Asset Tracking Technology

While the term 'GPS' is liberally thrown about, in reality, there are two types of GPS technology used for returnable asset tracking.

Active GPS

With active GPS, a powered tag is attached to the asset. This tag has the ability to determine its location which it periodically sends to a cellular tower or a satellite.

Last Scanned GPS Position

This method uses a simple barcode or RFID tag. Instead of housing the GPS sensors in the tag, a mobile reader (commonly a mobile phone) relays the positional information once the asset is scanned. Therefore, the positional information becomes available only after scanning.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you would and wouldn’t use roll-off container GPS tracking technology to manage your inventory and help you determine if it’s the right returnable asset tracking solution for you.

Why Use Active GPS Asset Tracking For Roll-Off Containers?

There are some obvious benefits to using active GPS tracking as opposed to traditional asset tracking involving barcodes or RFID tags.

It’s a Passive System

With active GPS, there is no human interaction required. The tag will relay positional information automatically, saving you the time and effort of having someone scan it.

Regular Positional Updates

Most active GPS tags will send their location data once per day, although some models may ping their data more frequently. This is useful if you need regular status reports about your assets in the field.

Movement Alerts

Active GPS can be set to send out an alert if the asset moves or changes location, a particularly useful feature for preventing unauthorized activity.

For those reasons, many roll-off container owners are interested in deploying active GPS tracking technology for their fleet. Despite the advantages, however, there are also significant drawbacks to consider.

The Problems With Using Active GPS Asset Tracking For Roll-Off Containers


People are often dismayed to discover the cost associated with active GPS tracking, which ultimately has a significant impact on whether they choose to go with the technology.

Because it's a fairly sophisticated piece of technology, an active GPS tag alone can cost in the neighborhood of $200 to purchase, in addition to about $15 per month for the tracking. When compared with barcode tracking that costs about $1 per barcode and $1 per month to track, the negatives begin to outweigh the benefits.

Battery Needs Replacing

While active GPS requires no human interaction for tracking purposes, this form of roll-off container GPS tracking technology still relies upon a battery to operate. This can pose two challenges: requiring an operator to go into the field and replace the batteries, and having to endure reduced reliability of the tag when the power gets low.

Easy to Disable

Want to prevent your roll-off from getting stolen? While it's true that an active GPS tag will alert you to any unauthorized movement, this scenario presumes that the would-be thief doesn't smash or remove the GPS tag - rendering it useless.

Provides Limited Information

The only thing an active GPS tag can tell you about an asset is where it's located. It isn't capable of relaying additional information such as when it was delivered, maintenance issues, physical condition or any other potentially relevant details. Some companies also want to get more efficient by eliminating paperwork. A GPS sensor will not eliminate paperwork. A full-featured tracking system like TrackAbout can both track your roll-offs while also moving delivery, pickup and maintenance records off of paper and into a digital system.

Signal Restrictions

Active GPS signals generally don't transmit well indoors, so any roll-offs placed housed in an enclosure may not be able to effectively communicate their location data.

Is Active GPS Tracking More Effective Than Barcodes or RFID?

In most cases, the answer is no.

Because of active GPS' inherent limitations  - chiefly cost and a limited amount of information provided - most people end up choosing a traditional barcode system to track their roll-off containers.

For one thing, barcodes are very inexpensive. They make enormous sense from a cost perspective when you have multiple assets to track. Conversely, at $200 per tag, active GPS asset tracking can get pretty expensive.

And remember, scanning a barcode will give you last-scanned GPS capability through the scanning device, which most roll-off owners find sufficient for their needs. Despite the fact that they require manual scanning, barcode tracking offers unique capabilities to capture and manage additional data that active GPS simply can't provide.

Once the asset is scanned, the information goes into a robust database, and additional relevant details can be cross-referenced to the asset in question. These can include:

  • Delivery records
  • Maintenance & warranty records
  • Whether an asset is "out of service"
  • Tracking rentals
  • Registration details

And unlike with active GPS, all of this data can be sorted and analyzed for fast reporting capability.


While active GPS technology may seem ideal on the surface, the reality is that barcode scanning is usually more than sufficient for tracking roll-off containers. Their reasonable cost combined with robust database capability makes them an effective tracking choice for these assets.

TrackAbout offers industry-leading asset tracking software solutions for a wide variety of returnable assets. From roll-off containers to gas cylinders, delivery racks, medical equipment, and beer kegs - TrackAbout's easy to use software allows you to capture asset information easily from a smartphone or rugged device.

Contact us for a free demo and to learn how our software can help you protect your valuable returnable asset inventory.

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