Gas tips only a call or click away

Ask any driver, and the obvious will be confirmed; gas ain’t cheap.

People across the country have been joining forces in all kinds of ways to beat excessive gas prices. But now, thanks to a new service from Vancouver-based GTG Technologies, drivers can find cheap gas prices via their cell phones, landline phones or even over the ‘net.

“There’s an Internet aspect to GasToGo, which is a Web site,” explained John Taschereau, the president and CEO of GTG Technologies. “We’re working on a WAP component to GasToGo, so we can transmit this information to wireless devices, and there’s the voice aspect to GasToGo, which is using your cell phone, for example — the voice controlled version.”

Drivers looking for gas prices simply call the toll-free Fuel Line to find out where to go, and members with a hot gas tip can call the same toll-free number to talk to an operator and leave the tip for others.

GTG has coupled its site with a voice-integrated technology platform of tools from Sprint Canada, Cisco Systems Canada, IBM, Lucent, Dialogic, and Nuance.

Vancouver-based Garth Wambolt, an account manager of major accounts at Sprint Canada, explained that the IP phone system became a valuable tool in the project because of the requirement to route calls, to save money and to source calls from different areas.

“For example,” he said, “in order to reduce the cost to GTG and provide additional capacity for them, as things roll out we’ll have POP sites and co-location facilities throughout the U.S. and major cities so that…there will be the ability to call a local number and the calls will be routed on voice over IP through a network back into GTG’s headquarters, and through a centralized database so the database can be managed effectively from that location.”

In the Vancouver area, the toll free calls that come in go through dedicated lines through either a local number or to the platforms that GTG has developed, according to Wambolt. Information is then passed through to a voice response unit.

If a call needs to be routed to a live or automated operator, it is passed back off though the network to the IP phone system to wherever the pre-determined location that would handle such a request is, Wambolt said.

The callers’ information and tips are stored in databases in two ways — either through on operator who uses the company’s intranet to enter the information into the database, or through the voice prompts in the system.

“We have an array of databases, Web servers and an array of voice servers that we’ve designed,” Taschereau said. “Those sub-arrays — like the array of Web servers — take in the Internet requests and process them. The voice servers do the same on the voice side.”

The voice or speech portal market is one that Princeton, N.J.-based The Kelsey Group sees booming by the year 2005. Reports from the group indicate that by that time, speech portal development will drive just under US$12 billion.

Rachel L. MacAulay, a research analyst in the voice and wireless commerce division of The Kelsey Group, said a voice portal “is a portal to the Internet…but this uses a phone instead of a computer. So people are finally starting to catch on that it’s a pretty cool thing because you have X amount of people — and I think we said 100 million people at least in the U.S. — who don’t have a computer, who probably won’t get a computer. But everybody has a phone.”

She said there are approximately 2 million voice portal users right now.

At press time, the GasToGo service was available in a closed Vancouver-based beta, and it will launch this spring in that area. It will be available in other markets soon after, according to Taschereau.

GTG Technologies, which was recently acquired by Luminex Ventures Inc., can be reached at (604) 633-4271 for more information.