Photo Courtesy of Sierra Nevada Corporation
An ORBCOMM second-gen satellite is prepared for system-level vibration tests before launching late this year by SpaceX.

A worldwide provider of satellite and cellular equipment-monitoring devices is releasing a self-powered, heavy-equipment tracking piece of hardware that is powered by the sun and sends information from anywhere on earth using a network of private satellites.

Rochelle Park, N.J.-based ORBCOMM's GT 1100 won an E-Tech award in May at the 2013 Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association's annual meeting. Its built-in solar panel allows it to send 2,900 messages from anywhere in the world on a single charge.

"One hour of indirect sunlight will allow the device to send another 50 messages," says Patrick Shay, executive vice president, ORBCOMM. His firm outfits heavy machinery with the device before selling the equipment to dealers.

"Our dealers love it," says Chad Ellis, product manager for heavy equipment, Doosan North America. "Over the last five years, telematics has increased our customers' uptime and improved our dealers' service-department revenues."

The GT 1100 communicates with ORBCOMM's current network of satellites to track and collect data from machines outside of cellular coverage.

"We outsource the construction of satellites to Sierra Nevada, Bowing and SpaceX," says Shay. The latter company will launch a rocket containing eight of ORBCOMM's new satellites in Q4 of 2013 and another eight in Q1 2014, says Shay. The upcoming satellite network, dubbed OG2, will double the speed of communication compared to the current OG1 network, allowing users to send larger messages, faster.

"Heavy-equipment companies want to know hours of use of an asset, diagnostic codes if a piece of equipment fails and machine location for theft prevention," says Shay. When the GT 1100 is in dual-operating mode, it switches between using a 3G signal and ORBCOMM's current OG1 satellite network. OG1 offers download speeds of 2,400 bps and upload speeds of 4,800 bps. The GT 1100 also can access the upcoming OG2 satellites.

Once equipped, the device can monitor a machine's internal operations and send reports. "It's up to the owner how far he utilizes the device," says Ellis. He says it can send a text message to a manager's cellphone whenever a machine has an error or exits a specified operation area, called a geo-fence. "If the equipment shouldn't be running off, [the manager] will know," says Ellis. The GT 1100 costs $500 to $800, and data charges are $10 to $30 a month, says Shay.