Expanding Coverage Areas

Multi-mode technologies keep truck fleets in closer contact.


"We expect XATANet's ease of use and rapid implementation to generate immediate results across our entire fleet," says Kirby Brown, chief financial officer of Valley Proteins. "Having XATANet onboard our trucks will be like having a supervisor riding with our drivers at all times, which will lead to increased driver productivity, enhanced safety and an immediate impact on our bottom line."

"The result is a best-of-breed platform capable of delivering high-value applications that are attractive and proven to reduce operating costs for all fleet types," says John Sarto, president and CEO of PeopleNet, which began offering multi-mode transmission as part of its g3 solution in 2004.

While most systems switch between digital cellular and satellite data transmission methods, PeopleNet's g3 switches between digital and analog cellular transmissions. Analog digital communications, though more expensive than digital, is still less expensive than satellite, and isn't hindered by cloud cover, urban canyons or a lack of service that is common with satellite, says Brian McLaughlin, vice presi'dent of product marketing for PeopleNet.

In addition, satellite's bandwidth is limited to about 18,000 characters at a time, and fees average about $50 a month, while analog offers a bandwidth that is 500 times greater. "With analog, you can send several megabytes [of information] for about the same cost or less," he says. "And, traditional satellite networks are very slow in passing a lot of data through them. There are some latency issues with all systems, but it's a lot less with analog because of the wider bandwidth."

Several foodservice fleets, including Affiliated Foods, Quickway and Domino's Pizza, are among the list of companies that implemented PeopleNet's g3 system last year.

Tripmaster customers using the company's DT-240/GPS or TKO Onboard Computer systems can choose between the LandLink terrestrial wireless network for use in metropolitan or regional operating areas, or the Trip'master multi-mode platform for coverage if operations go beyond. Within each platform, messages are sent and received via Tripmaster's Driver Data Terminal I or II, or handheld computers. Custom'ers can log onto a secure Web site to see where drivers are located or communicate with them using free-form or pre-programmed messages. Store-and-forward technology and additional levels of message acknowledgements are also available.

Driving Down Costs

While all these solutions, regardless of their mode of transmission, often include GPS and communications packages, they also are used to send data—including truck and driver performance, accident reconstruction, reefer temperature monitoring, driver logs, load status, routing and scanned images of signatures, barcodes and full documents—back and forth between the truck and the office.

Because they transmit over the faster, lower-cost digital cellular networks first and switch to a satellite or analog cellular network only when traditional digital coverage is not available, these systems reportedly provide greater reliability and reduce monthly communications fees by as much as 40 percent over standard satellite-only systems.

"Cost is a huge factor," says McLaughlin. "Satellite alone is very costly and you do not get capacity. Digital alone offers lower costs and more bandwidth, but not much coverage."

And because of increasing competition, prices for service are coming down, and costs for the truck hardware and installation are following suit. Up-front costs for most on-board computer systems and the other necessary hardware range from $1,000 to $1,200; monthly fees for most services range from $35 to $60 per truck, according to McLaughlin. "Costs have really come down in the last few years because of scale in the industry."

"You can get an ROI in as little as six months when you factor in driver productivity, fuel economy and better customer service," says XATA's Flies.

An added benefit of these systems is a more reliable platform for service pro'viders to perform over-the-air programming (OTAP), allowing them to remotely update the systems with new capabilities and product enhancements wirelessly while trucks are on the road. OTAP "allows us to update the programs quickly," says Flies.

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