Bell Mobility gets moving on location-based tracking aid

TORONTO — Bell Mobility Wednesday announced services designed to address the limitations of global positioning system tracking.

Companies that transport goods by truck often track their location via global positioning system (GPS)

satellites, which were originally launched for U.S. military use but are now widely used in the private sector.

Because satellite communications relies on direct line of site, GPS systems are “”pretty much useless”” if the receiver is carried into a building or driven underneath a bridge, said Bell Mobility president Michael Neuman.

The Toronto-based wireless carrier said it will add Assisted GPS, a technology that uses both the GPS network and Bell Mobility’s 1XRTT network, to locate devices. When a handset or tracking device loses contact with satellites, the mobile network will determine which cell site is closest.

Within the next year, Bell Mobility will offer companies the VT100, a vehicle tracking device manufactured by Vancouver-based Sendum Corp.

Assisted GPS has helped Charlotte, N.C.-based bank Wachovia Corp., which is beta-testing the Sendum vehicle tracker in its money bags, said Wayne Chester, Sendum’s president and chief executive officer.

Chester said Wachovia was unable to track cargo using GPS alone, because it was placing tracking devices in money bags with a fire-resistant aluminum fibre coating, which created a radio-frequency shield.

Each VT100 device, which can be powered using a five-day battery, costs about US$200, Chester added.

Bell Mobility has not announced pricing for its Sendum-based fleet tracking service. Neuman expects the carrier will offer volume pricing to fleet owners.

Although Assisted GPS will not give a device’s precise location, it usually provides the location within 30 metres, said Bryan Pilsworth, Bell Mobility’s associate director, wireless accelerator.

This is good enough for companies that need to track lost or stolen cargo, Chester said.

Sendum claims North American companies lose a total of $50 billion per year in stolen cargo.

This type of service is also handy for manufacturers who depend on just-in-time (JIT) delivery, said Michelle Warren, market analyst for Toronto-based Evans Research Corp.

“”If a product has to arrive at 1:00 and they’re going on the line at 4:00, and they’re half an hour late, that can really affect manufacturing schedules,”” she said, adding companies operating in northern areas, such as petroleum or mining companies, would be in the market for location-based services.

“”If you have any problems with the satellite connection, you have that dual-mode coverage,”” she said. “”As organizations move towards those just-in-time systems, you’re always having to track products and trucks.””

Warren added some companies want to know exactly where a cargo package is.

“”They’re just not satisfied to hear it’s on the way,”” she said. “”They want to hear some kind of proof that the supplier’s not fabricating a story or that the courier’s not fabricating a story.””

In addition to the Sendum devices, Bell Mobility is offering ruggedized modems from AirLink Communications Inc., which are aimed at organizations such as ambulance services, taxis and food transport companies.

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