If you're looking to add mobile wireless communications to your operation – or upgrade what you have – there are plenty of technologies to choose from these days.
The eyefortransport Wireless Fleet Conference, a late-February meeting of information technology managers in Miami, brought to light how far the technology has come in the past few years, and provided insights into what's ahead.
The state of wireless trucking communications, as provided by experts including fleet users and logistics companies at the conference:
• Only about 10 percent of truck fleets in the United States are currently equipped with mobile communications equipment (I'm pretty sure that doesn't count drivers' cell phones).
• Between trucks, trailers, construction equipment and mobile workers, there are some 2.5 million GPS/wireless devices in use.
• While truckload carriers were first to jump on the bandwagon, other types of operations are catching up. Wireless communications are expected to grow 30 percent annually among local delivery fleets, 20 percent in private delivery and less than 10 percent in truckload.
• About 200 suppliers offer various mobile communications products and services to the industry. Overall, devices are better than ever, and prices have come down.
Today's systems provide driver/dispatch communications, voice and text messaging, street-level mapping, driver logs, remote diagnostics and driver and vehicle performance tracking, among other things.
They can – or soon will – provide things like video feeds for accident documentation, voice recognition, barcode scanning and signature capture.
Fleets have reaped benefits such as productivity, lower operating costs, better security, less paperwork and better driver management. But it's not all been a bed of roses.
If drivers don't like the system, you could be in for problems. They will, according to the experts, make it work far better if they understand why information is being collected. They'll also be less likely to try to disable the devices. That seems to be a tradition among some drivers, and you may not eliminate tampering altogether. One solution: Use a system that alerts dispatch if a unit is fooled with or disconnected.
A rule of thumb in picking a system: If you're collecting hours of service or engine data, on-board is probably the way to go; if the driver is collecting data when he's outside the vehicle (such as package delivery) hand-held is better. Depending on your information needs, a combination may be best.
Another piece of advice from the experts: Don't get carried away with information overload; only collect what you will use.
And a final observation: If you're not into mobile communications yet, you will be soon.
E-mail Doug Condra at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write PO Box W, Newport Beach, CA 92658.