Sprint, Microsoft team on wireless service

Sprint Corp., with support from Microsoft Corp., launched a nationwide service designed to help businesses locate, track and direct mobile workers via wireless text and voice messages.

Analysts said the Sprint Business Mobility Framework is the first network-based location service for corporate users from a national wireless carrier in the U.S., although Bell Canada and several carriers in Europe and Asia already have similar offerings.

Microsoft will contribute its MapPoint Location Server software, which presents information about the location of handheld devices on a computer-based road map for use by dispatchers or call center workers. However, the software and Sprint’s location service will be sold separately.

Barry Tishgart, senior director of wireless product management at Sprint, said the carrier hopes the service will entice businesses that need to communicate with mobile white-collar workers, such as sales personnel and business executives. That would be in addition to the blue-collar workers who typically use location-based services, including truck drivers and delivery and repair crews.

But early adopters identified by Sprint fall into the latter category. For example, 1-800-Got-Junk this summer plans to test the new service on about 100 of the trucks that it uses to make pickups, said Roman Azbel, vice president of IT at the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company, which has 150 franchises in Canada and the U.S.

1-800-Got-Junk already uses the location service offered by Bell Canada’s Bell Mobility unit along with Microsoft’s MapPoint server. Azbel said the 90-day test of Sprint’s service will help determine the accuracy and performance of the vendor’s location technology.

If it takes even a few minutes for a dispatcher to receive location information from a truck, the driver “can drive pretty far” beyond the pinpointed spot, Azbel noted.

Early Returns

In February, Schnuck Markets Inc. in St. Louis announced that it was an early user of Sprint’s location service for communicating with 100 trucks making deliveries to stores in six states. Bob Drury, senior vice president of logistics, manufacturing and IT at Schnuck, said last week that the wireless service is tied to Web-based tracking and mapping software developed by two small vendors.

Drury said the service costs Schnuck about $30 monthly per device and is providing an “excellent return” because it has enabled a 15 percent reduction in the time needed to unload goods at stores.

Store managers can be notified just before a truck arrives, he said. In addition, a dispatcher can locate a truck to notify the driver of traffic problems or send the vehicle back to a store if there were problems with a delivery.

Sprint can locate a device to within 5 to 300 meters of its actual position by using Global Positioning System satellites and triangulation calculations based on information from its cellular towers, Tishgart said.

The service will cost less than $100 per month for up to 5,000 location transactions, plus an undisclosed start-up fee.

MapPoint Location Server starts at US$8,000, according to Microsoft.

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