A year ago, a Land Air Express Canada truck was hijacked outside of Windsor, Ont. The satellite tracking system the company was using couldn’t provide an update on the vehicle’s location fast enough. By the time it was found almost 400 kilometres away, the truck had been robbed of its freight.

That

incident prompted Dan Sokic, president of Land Air Express Canada Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont., to find a better way of tracking its fleet of vehicles.

Land Air Express Canada is a branch of a larger U.S.-based transportation company that delivers anything from a single envelope to a trailer load of freight — overnight anywhere in the continental U.S. The Canadian operation runs a fleet of 10 tractor trailers to and from the U.S. on a daily basis, serving primarily the auto and film industries.

“”We can take a last-minute shipment up until 7 p.m. each night and take it immediately to the U.S. for the next morning whether we’re delivering it to an airport to be flown elsewhere or transferring goods onto another freighter,”” he says.

To better serve its clientele in the highly competitive transportation industry, Sokic replaced Land Air Express Canada’s former satellite tracking system with a Vancouver-based company’s wireless fleet management service — the Quadrant system from WebTech Wireless.

The Quadrant system includes WebTech’s locator devices that are installed on the trucks and are tracked via the GSM/GPRS network. The system is designed to provide vehicle-based data that combines GPS location services, Internet, telemetry alerts, messaging, maintenance alerts and hands-free voice.

“”It allows us to better serve our customers by being able to definitively tell them exactly when their load is being delivered, where it is right now, and this is all real live data,”” he says. “”We can monitor our drivers, for example, to ensure they’re not speeding, and that helps with overall fuel economy.””

Sokic says his fleet of trucks is programmed to report via satellite every 40 kilometres. He says the reporting feature can be altered, but for Land Air Express Canada’s purposes, this provides the Mississauga office with a concise view of where its trucks are at any given time and the speed at which they’re travelling.

“”I can tell if one of my trucks is 30-minutes away from its destination or if my driver has stopped for a coffee at Tim Horton’s, whereas without this system, you can’t tell,”” he says. “”My customers value this, and the cost of the system isn’t great, but the peace of mind it provides me with is.””

Rather than receive live tracking updates every five minutes or 40 kilometres as the company does now, Sokic says, the former system had to download its data via modem every 10 minutes from the southern U.S.

“”In certain parts of the U.S., the GSM network isn’t available. You can imagine how much was involved with tracking one of our trucks with the previous system when that happened,”” he says.

Sokic says the WebTech hardware costs less than $1,000, plus $50 per locator unit. His company installed the tracking units on its own fleet, taking only 30 minutes per vehicle to do so.

“”This system is so covert and so small, it can fit into the palm of your hand,”” he says. “”We installed ours in places where even our drivers don’t know. One of the main reasons we don’t use PDAs is (because) without them, this system is invisible. Other systems have a big dome installed on the top of the truck and if you have a reasonable amount of intelligence it doesn’t take much to cut the wires or put tin foil over top of the device and block the transmission.””

Quadrant also comes equipped with Microsoft MapPoint mapping software, and the Quadrant system’s coverage across Ontario is excellent, says Sokic.

Warren Chaisatien, senior telecom analyst for IDC Canada in Toronto, says GSM/GPRS and CDMA 1X networks are ideal for transportation companies, though he says other business verticals likely won’t experience the benefits of this technology.

“”About 70 to 80 per cent of Canadian companies, in general, are not planning on using it and this is primarily because there’s not a lot of applications available at this time that would be of benefit to them,”” he says. “”It’s not entirely useful for the average user, but it will grow in time.””

WebTech Wireless partnered with Rogers AT&T Canada more than a year ago to offer its system on the latter’s GSM/GPRS cellular network, though the Quadrant system is capable of supporting TDMA, CDPD, DataTAC and satellite networks.

WebTech’s chief technology officer, Cameron Fraser, says in time, more business applications will be added to the GSM/GPRS and CDMA 1X networks, making them even more appealing to business users.

“”There’s been a wide mix of competing cellular and analogue networks offering different applications, and some companies have yet to port those applications over to the GSM/GPRS or CDMA networks,”” he says. “”But they will with time, as it’s the place to go.””

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