Gain instant visibility to your terminals with OpenTrack Port Performance: 

A Guide to Container Track and Trace in Logistics

December 8, 2023

In today’s competitive logistics marketplace, it’s more important than ever for logistics businesses to develop a real-time understanding of their supply chain. According to McKinsey & Company, the “COVID19 lockdowns shifted the share of U.S. personal expenditure on goods from 31 percent to 35 percent.” This shift, coupled with increased customer demand for ever-faster, no-hassle delivery, means that businesses are facing greater demand than ever to deliver their goods on time, every time. Many forward-thinking companies have started turning to container track and trace technology as a solution. 

Container track and trace gives businesses the visibility they need to maintain timelines and client relationships. Supply chain struggles have made timely shipping an increasingly rare feature. With container track or trace, logistics businesses can offer their clients unprecedented visibility in logistics, ensuring that the client stays happy and the delivery arrives on time. 

But as with any logistics strategy, businesses considering employing container track and trace should consider the benefits a track and trace container strategy could offer their business. By developing an understanding of container track and trace, as well as the problems of traditional carrier-only tracking, companies can understand how container track and trace can help their supply chain flourish. 

What Is Container Track and Trace?

Container track and trace is a tech-enabled logistics visibility strategy deployed by some of the world's most-prominent shippers to ship deliveries more efficiently. Container tracking and tracing relies on a container tracking number or a unique identifier given to each container. This container tracking number is then integrated into an online container tracking platform, which businesses can then use to track containers from their point of departure to arrival. 

However, many container track and trace providers have moved well beyond this bare-bones description. Many now offer API (Automated Programming Interface) integrated container track and trace services,  including TMS (Transportation Management Software) capabilities, white-label data services, and fully transparent intermodal container shipment tracking visibility across the entire spectrum of logistics offerings. 

By developing a broad understanding of what container track and trace technology can offer, businesses can better understand how to use this exciting track container shipment technology to help their logistics meet and exceed client expectations. 

Components of Container Tracking 

The most important aspect of container tracking is the number used to identify a particular container. This number will most likely be the booking number of the container (often issued by the carrier), or the bill of lading number (issued by the carrier to the shipper). When fed into a container track and trace software platform, these numbers form the basis of online container tracking. Though these numbers are the primary means of container shipment tracking, some businesses also utilize GPS (Global Positioning System) or short-range wireless tracking systems. 

The container track and trace software platform a business uses to access online container tracking can offer a wide variety of features. Increasingly, online container tracking providers seek to integrate TMS software into their container tracking platforms, giving businesses more profound insights into their staffing strategies. 

How Does Container Tracking Work

As with any cutting-edge technology, several components are necessary when implementing container tracking. GPS-based container tracking, AIS data tracking, and pallet-level sensors can work together to provide a full-visibility container shipping tracking solution to logistics businesses looking to get their supply chain under control. 

GPS-Based Container Tracking

GPS-Based container tracking relies on tracking devices linked to satellites. These satellites can then communicate the precise location of a freight asset to track and trace container software. Businesses can then use the data provided by the software to compare real-time analytics and make logistical decisions. 


  • Available off the shelf. GPS trackers are readily available and are some of the most cost-effective ways to track shipping containers. By attaching a GPS tracker to a freight asset, businesses can gain instant access to the real-time visibility needed to stay competitive in a high-stakes logistics environment. 
  • Self-contained tracking. Whereas bill-of-lading and booking numbers rely on several error-prone, human-run systems, GPS tracking is entirely self-contained. With GPS tracking, businesses no longer need to worry about misplaced asset sheets or hastily recorded numbers. 
  • Extremely accurate. GPS technology has progressed significantly in recent years. This technology has rapidly developed to provide real-time, instant access to asset location, direction, and speed. GPS tracking can be employed through these data points to track shipping containers and develop faster, safer, and more efficient logistics. 


  • Expensive. Like most cutting-edge logistics technologies, GPS tracking devices are often relatively costly. Though these devices can present an initial cost-hurdle, the savings provided by container trace software can quickly justify these initial expenses. 
  • Subject to Problems/Obstruction. While traditional tracking container strategies may be prone to human error, they're less prone to complex, expensive technological issues. GPS technology can face a wide range of problems and obstructions, many of which are more challenging to solve than bill-of-lading mix-ups or tracking number mistakes. 
  • Power-Hungry Capabilities. Unlike traditional cargo container tracking, GPS container track and trace rely on the capacity of battery-powered GPS transmitters to continuously transmit their location. When these power-hungry track and trace container systems run out of power, they can present complicated hurdles to logistics businesses looking for simple ocean container tracking solutions. 
  • Delays in Rebooting. One of the major benefits of a GPS cargo container tracking solution is real-time, on-demand access to the precise location of a freight asset. However, necessary software reboots can interrupt the flow of data, occasionally causing costly hiccups in a businesses logistics operations. 
  • GSM Networks Will Sunset. Times change, and so does technology. Eventually, the networks that GPS container tracking and tracing devices use will sunset or cease to function. Businesses considering implementing GPS cargo container tracking solutions should consider the inevitable sunsetting of software systems. 

AIS Data Tracking

AIS (Automatic Identification System) provides businesses with automated vessel tracking for ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, and shore-to-ship communications. Traditionally, these tracking systems have been used to track vessels and prevent collisions at sea. However, container shipping tracking platforms have increasingly used this technology to provide businesses with the logistics analytics they need to stay competitive in an increasingly competitive logistics landscape. 


  • Cost-Effective Operations. By providing detailed analytics, AIS Data Tracking can offer businesses new insight into fuel and staffing costs. With fuel prices and staffing issues on the rise, these savings can help maintain a company’s bottom line. 
  • Avoid Delays. AIS Data Tracking allows businesses to see into the current traffic forecasts of a particular area and that area’s traffic history. This data can give businesses the ability to make informed decisions about ETAs (Estimated Time of Arrival) and shipping strategies. 
  • Keep Clients Up to Date. Clients are tired of long delays and perpetual postponements. With AIS Data Tracking and container trace systems, businesses can provide clients with real-time information and ocean container tracking updates. 


  • High Traffic, Missing Ships. High traffic areas can result in a high density of ship-to-ship, shore-to-ship, and ship-to-shore transmissions. These transmissions can collide and clutter, resulting in increased latency and missing ships. 
  • Distance Difficulties. Terrestrial AIS, reliant on a shore-side transmitter, can only reach assets within 40 nautical miles. The increasing number of businesses investing in open-ocean shipping solutions must implement additional strategies to track shipping containers.
  • Constant Coverage requires Constant Power. AIS Data Tracking can provide some of the most consistent coverage available for a business’s ocean container tracking needs. However, if this AIS software goes dark for any reason, businesses suddenly lose track of their freight assets, leaving clients in the dark. 

Pallet-Level Sensors

Pallet-level sensors are among the most practical, detail-oriented container shipment tracking devices. These devices, often designed for the durability demanded by fast-paced warehouse environments, can be easily attached to pallets. Once associated with a pallet, these RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) sensors are can easily track specific pallets within a business's supply chain. 


  • Detailed Metrics. For sensitive shipments, clients demand sensitive metrics. With pallet-level sensors incorporated into trace and trace container systems, businesses can measure a shipment's humidity and temperature, allowing them to adjust schedules before sensitive shipments deteriorate. 
  • Detailed Analytics. By providing businesses with instant visibility for individual pallets, pallet-level sensors allow companies to offer their clients the most detailed, accurate container trace available. 


  • Lack of Standardization. Unlike cargo containers and other shipping methods, there's no international standard for pallets. A lack of an international standard means that working across borders can present challenges for businesses using pallet-level sensors as a container shipment tracking solution. 
  • Limited Battery Life. As with any tech-based container tracking and tracing solution, companies considering pallet-level sensors should predict the cost of device and battery replacement. Though recent prototypes could last up to a decade, businesses should consider replacement costs before adopting pallet-level sensors as a container track and trace solution. 

The Problems of Traditional Carrier-Only Tracking

While traditional carrier-only tracking may have worked for conventional logistics, the complicated world of contemporary ocean shipping logistics demands businesses to reexamine their container track and trace capabilities. According to McKinsey & Company, “The unexpected surge of US container imports after Q3 2020 overwhelmed the system. While part of the congestion came from lower labor availability, our analysis suggests that slower trucking equipment turnover—including tractors and chassis—is the main factor driving the current congestion.” 

In other words, the slew of crises facing the post-COVID logistics industry is partially the result of the logistical inefficiencies of carrier-only tracking. To understand the advantages of a tech-enabled container track and trace  solution, businesses should first understand the shortfalls of carrier-only tracking. 

Limited to Each Carrier

In an increasingly global economy, it's more important than ever for businesses to invest in technology that corks across continents, cultures, and carriers. Traditional carrier-only tracking exists only within the confines of a single carrier and is limited to interactions within that line. As a result, scalability is almost impossible, which invariably impacts a business's potential  growth. With tech-enabled trace and trace container solutions, companies can invest in fruitful relationships across the whole spectrum of their supply chain. 

Multiple Websites

Though it may not seem like a significant problem, spreading container tracking and tracing capacities across multiple websites can cause organizational headaches that tank efficiency and frustrate staff. Businesses can access the latest container track and trace technologies on-demand by utilizing a single, easy-to-use cargo container tracking platform. 

Software That May Not Integrate Well With Your Tech Stack

Increasingly, traditional carrier-only tracking relies on a broad host of apps and software. Though these apps purportedly make accessing cargo container tracking information easier for businesses, they often act as confusing middlemen between invaluable analytics and the businesses needing them. By partnering with a single, broadly capable container track and trace platform, companies can quickly access the resources they need without the hassle of multiple apps and software interfaces. 

Limited Insight Into the Whole Supply Chain

Multiple systems, apps, and software providers offer numerous  perspectives. Using a wide range of software, rather than a single, integrated container track and trace platform, means businesses give up access to a holistic view of the supply chain. Inevitably, this oversight means missed details, which can quickly result in missed deliveries. 

Inaccessible Across All Devices

Traditional carrier-only tracking exists on the carrier's terms. If a carrier doesn't support tech-enabled, cross-platform container shipment tracking, businesses can’t access the ship cargo tracking information they need to stay competitive. High-tech, cross-platform container track and trace services provide companies with access to a real-time container tracker whenever and wherever they need it. 

The Benefits of Container Tracking

Once a business understands the many shortcomings of traditional carrier-only tracking, it’s time to consider the benefits of tech-enabled, fully integrated container tracking software and how companies can use it to meet the challenges of ocean shipping

More Visibility Into Container Movements

Cross-platform container track and trace services mean businesses can access a full, detailed suite of analytics spanning the entire breadth of their supply chain. This real-time data can be shared across platforms with clients, making it easier than ever to offer clients unprecedented transparency in logistics. 

Better Cost Management.

With cash-strapped ports eager to charge demurrage and detention fees, and staffing concerns making competitive pay scales a must-have for any company, logistics businesses are looking for innovative ways to manage costs. With complete supply train visibility through tech-enabled online container tracking, companies can avoid costly fees and keep staffing costs down with unprecedented efficiency.

Reduces Risk of Loss

With the ability to foresee rolled cargo incidents before they happen, businesses that use a container track and trace platform can avoid costly incidents that can harm client relationships. Each tracking container represents a valuable asset; with container track and trace technology, businesses that choose to track and trace container can show their clients that every shipment counts. 

Improved Downstream Logistics Planning

In a high-stakes logistics environment, businesses must plan not just for today  but for the logistics of tomorrow. Cross-platform container track and trace software enable enterprises to access invaluable data, such as traffic metrics, wait times, and travel conditions. These metrics, which can be easily communicated to business partners, allow businesses to plan for tomorrow and limit exceptions. 

Higher Level of Customer Service

Businesses that use track and trace container software gain instant access to an expert team of customer service professionals who help ensure that deliveries arrive on time, every time. In traditional carrier-only tracking, the carrier has the last word. Cross-platform container track and trace software providers, however, work to keep their clients happy and their deliveries on time. 

Considerations Before Choosing a Container Track and Trace Software

Before choosing a container track and trace software provider, businesses need to ask a few key questions to to ensure they select software with features that work for their supply chain. 

  • Is the existing software meeting your company’s needs? By analyzing the benefits and pitfalls of their current software, businesses can develop more specific criteria when looking for a container track and trace software provider.
  • Is the software easy to use? Companies considering container track or trace software should consider its ease of use; while the employee initially testing the product may have an easy time navigating the software, will that be true for all employees? 
  • Is it scalable? The right container track or trace software can work with a business for the long haul. The container track or trace software should be able to grow and scale with a business rather than hinder its growth. 
  • Can it be accessed from multiple devices? A recent study from McKinsey & Company reminded the logistics industry that “Trucking plays an important role in container hand-offs.” By offering container tracking and tracing capabilities across platforms, container track and trace providers help businesses at all points of the logistics process. 
  • What’s the actual cost of the system? Avoid hidden fees by being up-front with a prospective container track and trace software provider about costs. Being transparent about budgetary restrictions can help save money in the long run and demonstrate a willingness to work openly with a container tracking and tracing company. 
  • How’s the customer support for the system? Remember, an effective ocean container tracking system is only as good as its customer service. When something goes wrong, who’s there to help businesses?
  • Is there a particular technology your company wants to use? With more software providers coming onto the market, container tracking and tracing has more meanings than ever. Considering specific features they need can help businesses narrow their options and keep ocean ETAs accurate.
  • Do you want off-the-shelf or customizable, home-grown solutions? Analyzing their supply chain to understand their specific needs can show businesses whether they can use a ready-made container track or trace solution or need a container track and trace solution designed specifically for their needs. 
  • How will tracking impact everyday operations? Staff may need to change habits to best implement container track and trace solutions. 
  • How will your team manage the IT integration process? Beyond general staffing, businesses must ensure that their Information Technology teams are prepared to implement container number tracking software into daily operations. 
  • Can it track across multiple modes? According to McKinsey & Company, the post-COVID “...recovery of port and hinterland logistics capacity from current congestion will depend on landside operators working together.” Considering whether a particular container track or trace solution will work across modes is key to future scalability. 
  • Does it provide exception alerts? Many container track or trace solutions offer exception alerts, which notify a business immediately when delays happen or something goes wrong in the logistics process. 
  • Can it be easily integrated with your tech stack? Does the container track and trace software pair easily with existing technical infrastructure to mitigate supply chain disruptions?
  • Does it offer a customer portal? User experience can define whether a container track and trace software platform is a help or a hindrance; choosing a container track and trace partner with an easy-to-use interface means fewer exceptions and more robust logistics. 

The Big Picture: Leverage Container Tracking Easily With OpenTrack

A new era of container shipment tracking is here. Recently, McKinsey & Company reported that “Fixing trucking and improving equipment turnover requires a respite from the continuing volume surge and a relaxation of the pinch-points that delay trucking.” By partnering with OpenTrack, a cross-platform, tech-enabled container track and trace software platform, businesses can address these ongoing challenges and offer their end-users the affordable, efficient, and effective service they deserve. Book a demo of OpenTrack to see how enhanced visibility in container track and trace software is possible today.

Book a Demo

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Please check all fields are complete

Get started and see how the OpenTrack software has helped 100’s of companies with their Logistics.