Phoning it in

Global positioning system receivers are standard equipment on vehicle-mounted tracking systems, but only in the last year has the same technology become available to cell phone users. With GPS-enabled phones and mobile resource management applications, some carriers are realizing productivity gains with significantly less hardware expense.

Reeve Trucking has used Nextel phones for more than 10 years, says Don Reeve, owner of the 126-truck carrier based in Stockton, Calif. The company, which hauls construction and building equipment, recently began replacing its phones with Motorola’s new i-58, GPS-enabled phone, which costs around $180. On this platform, Reeve Trucking runs a Web-based mobile resource management application from @Road called GeoManager Pocket Edition. For an additional $40 per month per subscriber, Reeve Trucking can now monitor the location and speed of its assets – trucks and drivers – in real time.

Reeve says he chooses cell phones over tethered or cab-mounted tracking and communication systems because talking to drivers at the job site – in or out of the truck – and while en-route to pickups and deliveries was more critical than knowing the location of vehicles. Now he can do both with one piece of portable hardware.

“We have the ability to accomplish things that never crossed my mind before,” Reeve says. If there are disputes about the timing of loads, for example, Reeve says he can simply print a document from the online service to show the driver’s arrival time. Having a location-based time stamp for each load also helps to resolve arguments between the shipper and consignees – common in the construction industry. Reeve Trucking also allows some of its customers to track the status of their loads directly from the GeoManager website.

“It is impacting my operation dramatically,” Reeve says. “It’s something I wouldn’t want to be without.”

J.D. Fay, vice president of corporate affairs, @Road Inc., says the biggest area for growth in the use of GPS phones and mobile resource management applications is current cellular customers. Nextel, for example, is used by thousands of fleets in truckload and LTL, construction, metro delivery and service, such as HVAC and plumbing. Fay says that current Nextel users will eventually want to upgrade their hardware to GPS phones to take advantage of new location-based services.

For U.S. Food Services, one of the nation’s largest food distributors, mobile solution developer Xora Inc. built a custom server-based system to use with GPS-enabled Nextel phones. Following on that work, Xora developed GPS TimeTrack, a commercially available online solution, says Ananth Rani, Xora’s vice president of products and services. Xora says 100 customers have signed up for its GPS TimeTrack service for GPS-enabled cell phones. The application is $11.99 per month with a $24.99 one-time set up fee.

GPS TimeTrack automatically records when a driver begins and ends each day by capturing time and location information to a central server. Carriers can use Xora’s online hosted system to run time reports or download the data directly into their payroll systems, such as Quickbooks, Rani says.

In May, General Motors Commercial Fleet division announced that customers who qualify for its Fit For Profit or Chevrolet Commercial Customer’s Choice promotional programs can choose, as one of their non-cash incentives for purchasing a new vehicle, a GPS/Java-enabled Nextel i58sr phone. They also get a one-year subscription to a Nextel Total Connect data plan, and one year of Gearworks’ Etrace xt software application for managing mobile workers, says Scott Hull, vice president of marketing for Minneapolis-based Gearworks.

Vehicle-mounted or tethered mobile communication and tracking systems, which are so prevalent in the truckload industry, can monitor a broad range of vehicle and engine data. Tethered solutions are also more reliable in tracking lost or stolen vehicles. GPS phones and mobile resource management solutions, however, represent a significant achievement in combining voice, data and tracking data to a wide variety of fleets for a fraction of the cost. And to many companies in field services, notes Xora’s Rani, tracking time and location with work orders is a more valuable application of GPS than monitoring the truck.