Expanding Coverage Areas

Multi-mode technologies keep truck fleets in closer contact.


While companies find it fairly easy to control data flow in their warehouses and on their docks, they often lose visibility and control once the loads are dispatched and trucks are on the road. Many companies sought out onboard computer and communications systems to help them gain that visibility, only to find out later on that coverage areas were limited, keeping their drivers out of touch anyway.

Fleet operators in the past had only two choices—satellite or cellular. Satellite offered greater coverage but was more expensive on a per-character basis. Cellular was significantly less expensive, but coverage was spotty. In response, a number of onboard communications and computer systems providers within the last year or two started exploring new technologies to expand those coverage areas, offering multi-mode systems that can use any combination of radio, satellite, digital cellular, analog cellular and Internet systems in one solution.

GeoLogic Solutions, Herndon, VA, formerly the Transportation Division of Aether Systems, was the first to offer mobile communications and onboard systems that use both terrestrial and satellite-based networks. It's MobileMax multi-mode communications system automatically selects the faster, lower cost terrestrial network for data transmission first, and switches seamlessly to satellite when coverage is needed in remote areas. Not only does it provide a means for relaying voice and text messages and GPS data, the system automatically records state line crossings, monitors driver and vehicle performance, communicates engine fault codes and alerts companies when a driver arrives or departs from pre-set geofenced locations.

Scarborough, ME-based truckload carrier R.C. Moore was an early adopter of previous mobile communications systems and recently upgraded its fleet of 135 trucks with the new MobileMax multi-mode system from GeoLogic. Other companies that recently upgraded to the MobileMax system include Sharkey Transportation, Quincy, IL; South''east Freight Lines, Jacksonville, FL; DMT Services, Siloam Springs, AR; Con'way Courier Service, based in Ala'bama; and TransAm Trucking, Olathe, KS.

"We clearly had a need to be able to meet shipper and receiver requests for onboard communications and tracking capabilities," says Jason Johnson, safety director for Conway. "The cell phones we had been using to communicate with drivers did not offer the abilities we needed to effectively service our customers."

Since MobileMax first hit the scene, a number of other onboard systems pro'viders have started offering multi-mode solutions as well. Among them are XATA Corp., Minneapolis; Cadec Corp., Londonderry, NH; Tripmaster Corp., Arlington, TX; Terion, Plano, TX; AirIQ, Toronto; @Road, Fremont, CA; and PeopleNet, Minneapolis, to name a few.

"The addition of satellite communication, used in conjunction with terrestrial communication, is a natural progression toward [Cadec's] goal of having the most complete and cost-effective communication offering in the trucking industry," says Les Dole, president and CEO of Cadec, which offers a satellite component to its Mobius TTS onboard system.

The addition of satellite gives customers steady communication with drivers and onboard systems at all times and where there is no other communications availability for extended periods of time, Dole says.

"When drivers are in digital coverage areas, they have a very fast connection for the information they're sending from the truck," says Tom Flies, vice president of business development at XATA, which offers digital cellular, satellite and Wi-Fi capabilities as part of its XATANET on'board package. "The satellite gives them universal coverage across the nation."

That quickly became a requirement for Valley Proteins, Winchester, VA, an independent recycler of food by-products. The company's 450-vehicle fleet was recently outfitted with XATANET. Company executives often need to measure how drivers run their routes and provide guidance on areas of improvement after routes have been completed, but, found it difficult to do so because many of the trucks operate in areas where cellular coverage is unavailable.

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