Smart container fleet predicted to expand eight-fold over the next five years

The global telematics enabled container equipment fleet is forecast to grow eight-fold over the next five years and account for 25% of global box inventories by 2026, according to a new report from UK consultancy Drewry.

Smart containers have increased in prominence following the onset of the covid pandemic and resultant supply chain disruption which has highlighted the need for better cargo visibility to cope with longer and more volatile transit times.

A container becomes “smart” when fitted with a telematics device that provides real-time tracking and monitoring, enabling operators to increase turn time of their containers and so improve equipment availability. It also allows beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) to understand the location and status of their cargo so that they can better control their supply chains.

Drewry estimates that by the end of 2021 around 3.6% of the global container equipment fleet was fitted with smart technology devices following growth of over 30% through the year. However, take-up varies considerably by equipment type, with penetration already strong in reefer and intermodal containers but much lower in the dry box sector. Already as much as a third of the maritime reefer container fleet is smart-enabled, while the figure is over 40% for intermodal containers, according to Drewry estimates.

Hapag-Lloyd’s decision to equip its entire dry box fleet with smart devices will force other leading carriers to follow suit

Drewry forecasts that the number of smart containers in the global fleet will accelerate in the five years to 2026 to reach over 8.7m units, representing as much as 25% of worldwide box inventories.

“As technological innovation lowers the cost of devices and enhances their value to both transport operators and BCOs, uptake is expected to hasten,” Drewry stated.

Hapag-Lloyd’s recent announcement that it intends to equip its entire dry box fleet with smart devices will force other leading carriers to follow suit, Drewry reckons.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. This suggests that lines, ports, terminals, rail, barge, short sea shipping and barge operators are operating blind. Asset positioning and status certainly needs enhancement but the various players do plan their operations and keep track of their assets. Certainly disruption response would be invaluable. Containers don’t move without sanction and ship operators know what units are to be discharged/loaded in port rotation sequences. Location and condition monitoring (technical and commercial) needs to be on an exception basis.

    1. The article specifically mentions information flow and access to BCOs and shippers, but it doesn’t imply that container fleets are not controlled and managed. Of course Lines know where their boxes are (or at lease, should do if they are doing their jobs properly). Having said that, it is not the information or container position that controls the fleet – it is the active management of that data – which is where some Lines are failing.

  2. Have the various telematics’ providers solved the problem of battery life, re-charging and replacement of batteries? It is all very well to stick a tag on a dry box but it is a monster problem to go swapping and re-charging batteries on all these devices (reefers don’t suffer from that because they can be plugged in anyway, so re-charges are automatic).

  3. Land based positioning has merit, but at sea, it is a waste of money, bandwidth to satellites, and employee time. Anyone can already determine where a ship is 7×24. “The ship is 2000 miles out there in the Pacific Ocean. Does anyone actually need to know to the last 400 feet the location of their container?

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