An Ottawa-based call centre is using a Frame Relay network to change the way taxis are dispatched to riders in parts of southern Ontario.

Coventry Communications Inc. sends and receives both voice and data over Sprint Canada’s converged Internet Protocol (IP) network, and uses global positioning

system (GPS) software to locate taxis in remote areas. When incoming calls are answered, information goes out over the Sprint network to local radio dispatch towers and, from there, to wireless modems in the cabs. Coventry’s vision of taxi service is one in which riders are presented with professional-looking, newer model cabs that come equipped with colour information displays in the rear.

“”What we want to do is really change the standards radically, to make more people use taxis,”” says Hanif Patni, Coventry’s president and chief executive officer. The idea, says Patni, is to create an expectation among customers about what a taxi should look like and what services it should offer, along with the confidence to know that the nearest taxi has been dispatched and is taking the most efficient route between destinations.

“”You go from city to city and you can find a Loblaws, McDonald’s or Best Western, and there’s an expectation of a standard,”” says Patni. “”In the current North American taxi industry all you expect is a car.””

When a rider gets into a cab serviced by Coventry, they see a Windows CE machine, which welcomes them to the taxi company and presents a map indicating the route that will be used. Patni says the software, which uses location information provided by GPS satellites, also displays directed advertising, local trivia and entertainment info.

Drivers can enjoy the serenity of a silent ride, since radio dispatch is replaced with a converged voice and data network that displays information on terminals in the vehicle. Meanwhile, the GPS-based automated allocation systems ensure the cabs are always being dispatched to the closest customer.

Conventry’s dispatch and GPS applications don’t “”lend themselves nicely to a Frame Relay environment,”” says Bruce Robertson, Sprint Canada’s senior manager of data and IP Solutions. However, Sprint consultants supplied Frame Relay access equipment at the edges of the network to provide the high availability Coventry required.

“”We sourced out the hardware provider, got our hands on some test equipment, turned up test circuits for them in our labs in Montreal, and set this up so that it would do what they needed it to do on a Frame Relay circuit,”” explains Robertson. Using IP over Frame Relay has its advantages, he adds, because it’s inexpensive and uses a transfer rate of only 56 Kilobits per second (Kbps), meaning Coventry has no problem expanding into remote areas. While Sprint supplies the end-to-end network connectivity, Ottawa’s Mobile Knowledge is providing a host application – dubbed CabMate – along with a client application called CabMate Mobile, to let Coventry automate the process of dispatching taxis to customers, no matter where they’re calling from.

“”The host software knows the location of all vehicles and from that can compute which is the nearest vehicle to dispatch to the new fare,”” explains Mick Chawner, president and chief executive officer of Mobile Knowledge. When a customer calls a taxi company supported by Coventry’s call centre — which it operates under its ZipTrack subsidiary — the call is redirected through Sprint to the host application in Ottawa and answered by a call centre representative, whose computer screen displays all of the relevant information.

The CabMate software automatically dispatches the next available and nearest taxi, reducing the average length of call from one minute to 10 seconds. To date, Coventry is servicing seven taxi fleets and roughly 850 taxis from its call centre, which at the moment has 20 seats for call takers. “”Instead of taxi companies having their own 24-hour call-taking and administration operations that suck up a lot of resources, we have a massive call centre here that consolidates that activity and can take calls for any taxi company,”” Patni says.

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