In it for the long haul
Unlike trucking companies in the logging industry, long-haul trucklines must look beyond dispatch radio (and paging) for their communications needs. They may rely on terrestrial communications for part of their operations, but most likely will resort to systems that use satellite, Internet technology or both.
Dispatch communications in trucks traveling beyond, and sometimes well beyond, the city limits may not use voice as much as they would data and messaging communications. Other functions that a fleet may need, which would go hand-in-hand with voice and data, are GPS, AVL and recording.
“Choosing a wireless service for your particular fleet is a complex process involving high stakes,” wrote Jim Mele, editorial director of Fleet Owner in a 1997 article. “Not only does wireless communications require a substantial capital outlay for the necessary truck and office hardware, but it also requires a major commitment of resources to integrate the chosen service into existing or new information management systems.”
However, once a company has made that commitment, wireless communications can quickly increase efficiency and productivity, improve customer service and affect the bottom line.
Many options are available to fleet owners, with packages ranging from simple dispatch features to more complex systems that feature dispatch, GPS, messaging and activity logging.
@Track Communications, formerly HighwayMaster, offers the HighwayMaster Series 5000, which provides data messaging, voice communications and GPS, using satellite and cellular technologies. The in-cab components include a phone, data display and microprocessor. @Track, based in Richardson, TX, has established a network for the United States that offers mobile communications coverage in 98% of the available wireless service areas in the United States and 100% of the A-side coverage in Canada.
The microprocessor inside the mobile unit enables complex operations and calculations to be performed inside the moving truck. This intelligence supports many of HighwayMaster’s functions, including voice recognition, vehicle tracking, R-ETA, engine interface and automated fuel tax reporting. The host system can work as a stand-alone system, or as a part of a company’s existing information applications.
PeopleNet Communications, Minneapolis, provides an Internet-based fleet tracking and communications system, which features GPS, two-way in-vehicle data and voice communications, and business tools such as online routing and mileage and load matching. The Peoplenet g2x’s components include the fleet manager Web link, an in-vehicle base unit (holds the transceiver and GPS receiver) and GPS and wireless antennas.
Qualcomm, one of trucking’s largest providers, offers a complete transportation logistics management system. The Fleet Advisor offers real-time wireless communications, full-function on-board computing, GPS and back-office software networking capabilities. The whole system consists of the in-vehicle software and hardware, used in conjunction with Qualcomm’s communications service, FleetCom. The system elements are the on-board computer, fleet card and ground support system. FleetCom provides the satellite or terrestrial wireless data communications between drivers and dispatcher.
Nextel Communications can also provide fleet services. In November 2000, Nextel partnered with ActSoft, Datatrac, Intermec, Penchant Software and ServiceHub to provide its Online Plus customers with more Web-based dispatch and fleet management applications. Mobile Interactive Data Solutions from Datatrac allows users to send and receive free-form messages, status updates and job information through a Nextel Plus phone. ServiceHub is a Web-based service for dispatching, remote customer service, field service and supply chain communications.
IDA, Fargo, ND, specializes in AVL products, such as its Trakit-25A, which provides expanded utility GPS tracking and data communications. It combines messaging, bar coding and full fleet management. Its Trakit-25D provides the same features over digital radio systems EDACS, APCO-25, Nextel and CDPD. IDA can provide hardware and software.
Before approaching any company about costs and services, fleet operators should evaluate what kind of information and the volume of information they expect to be exchanging on the road. They should also decide what functions they could use, such as vehicle location and activity logging. And they should not overlook the cost of integrating a wireless system with their existing information system.