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Ring-Around-Qualcomm at ATA

November 4, 1999

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Challengers surrounded Qualcomm on the American Trucking Assns. convention exhibit floor in Orlando, FL, this week.
American Mobile Satellites Corp.'s exhibit was closest, and AMSC was gunning for Qualcomm's popular OmniTRACS product. In sit-downs with AMSC COO Bob Goldsmith, reporters were introduced to MobileMAX2, a new, compact, mobile messaging product.
According to Goldsmith, MobileMAX2 is housed in one small, more easily installed unit that communicates at higher modem speeds over a terrestrial data network. The new product, like the old, also works via high-orbit satellite, providing OmniTRACS-style coverage, but with the ability to switch seamlessly between the two modes, automatically selecting the least expensive, Goldsmith said.

HighwayMaster was in the ring, too, displaying TrackWare, its outside-mounted trailer-tracking product that can be quickly installed even on loaded trailers. HighwayMaster's cellular-based driver communication products remained unchanged, but not the company's attitude. After excruciating financial crises and a sober reorganization, HighwayMaster was off the defensive and solidly back in trucking's mobile communications race.
On another side was InTouch, the low-cost cellular system from PeopleNet Communications and the first major entry to bring driver communications to dispatcher desks over the Internet. InTouch came to the show with a new menu of integrated Internet services, including automated fuel tax tracking, route optimization, load matching and online credit checks.
In an outer ring and with a blast of Las Vegas-style pizzazz, Terion Inc. introduced the new driver communications system that bears the company name. Shunning both cellular and satellite, Terion uses FM radio bands for dispatch-to-driver messaging and high-frequency radio for the reverse trip. Terion also showed a trailer-tracking antenna cleverly -- and almost invisibly -- housed inside a standard trailer running light. In the mobile communications wars, Terion clearly regards itself as an Omnitracs killer.
Meanwhile, at the center of the exhibit floor ring, Omnitracs parent Qualcomm was anything but smug about its commanding trucking market share. The folks from San Diego had some introductions of their own. OmniExpress, for one, is a more compact version of Omnitracs using the Sprint PCS network, which employs the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology developed by Qualcomm. Along with TRUCKmail, a kind of OmniTRACS lite, OmniExpress offers lower costs and aims to widen Qualcomm's trucking penetration.
Qualcomm also showed a new computer-keyboard-display developed jointly with Symbol Technologies. The MVPc, as it is called, looks as though a standard OmniTRACS keyboard had gone through the Ford Taurus design team. But the important difference is under the keys, where applications can run on the burgeoning Windows CE operating system.
Qualcomm obviously respects its competitors as much as it relishes its commanding role in the marketplace. This fight is going to get a whole lot more interesting in the months to come.

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