GPRS enables cheaper fleet tracking

Before General Packet Radio system (GPRS) came along, deploying a comprehensive fleet management system would have been too expensive for trucking company J.D. Smith & Sons Inc.

With 120 trucks making between 500 and 600 deliveries daily in and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), there was too much data being generated for the drivers to send via J.D. Smiths’ existing Maddocks Systems Inc. Truckmate system, which transmitted over radio frequency (RF), said Cam Arnsten, information systems manager at J.D. Smith.

Even though “too much data” meant only 1MB to 1.5MB per truck per month, it was not practical for J.D. Smith to move it via RF because it would have required an old analogue system to send the data, which included information about pickups and deliveries. The Maddocks system couldn’t transmit over digital networks.

“Our original look at these types of installations showed the operating cost of moving the data would have exceeded the capital cost in the third month,” Arnsten explained.

That’s when Arnsten turned to FleetMind Solutions Inc. FleetMind worked with Maddocks to integrate Maddocks TruckMate for Windows enterprise software with FleetMind’s FleetLink onboard wireless communications system.

J.D. Smith paid $4,900 to license the software from FleetMind, and using Rogers Wireless Inc.’s GPRS network costs J.D. Smith $10 per month, per truck, Arnsten said. Also, the FleetMind onboard computer installed on each truck cost $3,500 per vehicle, he added.

The onboard computers communicate in two ways, Arnsten said. From the Maddocks side, a local RF antenna keeps track of the trucks within a 1 to 1.5 kilometre radius around any of J.D. Smith’s five warehouses. As soon as the trucks leave that zone, GPRS from Rogers cuts in and keeps the trucks connected back to J.D. Smith’s head office using FleetLink.

The FleetMind onboard computer talks to the truck’s internal computer and constantly receives driver data, including speed, location, engine functions and hundreds of other measures, Arnsten said. This data lets J.D. Smith monitor driver behaviour and skills, plan maintenance for the trucks and devise better routes. Additionally, J.D. Smith is participating in the Federal government’s Freight Sustainability Demonstration Program, to make drivers more efficient and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

The onboard computers also let drivers send and receive pick-up and delivery requests, plus update delivery records. This is helpful because if a customer calls to ask when he will receive a shipment, the dispatcher can view the truck’s location and give the customer an accurate expected time of arrival (ETA). Or if a customer claims to have not received a shipment, J.D. Smith can simply examine a truck’s records to either confirm or dispute the allegations. J.D. Smith looked at several other fleet management vendors but ruled them out immediately, he added.

“Most of the them use their own satellite networks or their own communications backbone so they are more expensive,” he explained. That FleetMind was available over Rogers’ GPRS made the system affordable, he added.

Right now, J.D. Smith is in the middle of its implementation. It outfitted its first 10 trucks in November 2003. Initially, Arnsten projected the rollout to be completed by mid-June 2004 but summer holidays got in the way. When IT Focus interviewed him, Arnsten expected the project to be complete by December, 2004.

FleetMind is responsible for installing and maintaining the onboard computers and the FleetLink system but J.D. Smith hosts it on-site.


Another trucking company, Transport LeCavalier in Saint-Laurent, Que. also uses Rogers’ GPRS to let its tracking system — dubbed Mobicom, from Datacom Wireless Corp. — transmit data from the trucks.

Before Datacom and Rogers, Transport LeCavalier used a tracking system from Boomerang Systems Inc. Michel Lavoie, director of operations at Transport LeCavalier, said the company signed up for Boomerang to track a truck in case it was stolen. However, he said, it was very expensive to simply find out the location of a truck at any given time because after Boomerang traced the vehicle, it would send a private car to the location, which could be very expensive if the truck was out of town.

That’s why the company chose Datacom’s Mobicom. Datacom installed hidden devices with antennae in the dashboard of each of the trucking firm’s 125 vehicles.

One of the main reasons Transport LeCavalier picked Datacom was because Lavoie knew Paul-Andr

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