Cell phones evolving to much more

by Katy de Vries

TORONTO, Ont. – The traditional cellular phone is becoming obsolete in everyday trucking operations thanks to the convergence of wireless communication devices.

“I do see hand-held devices largely being replaced by complete solutions that include data and voice,” said Nathan Wilson, marketing manager of diversified services for SaskTel. “I also see a general move in the wireless industry towards a convergence of all devices.”

In short, the transportation industry wants a more integrated device rather than a number of different devices requiring not only compatibility but also several extra hands.

The fact that trucking companies are constantly on the lookout for better ways to contain costs and increase productivity, and shippers have higher expectations of when deliveries will be made, just makes the push for the development of better, faster and more integrated devices that much harder, said Laura Johnson, director of mobile field force solutions for AT&T Wireless.

“Companies want instantaneous information about vehicle location and delivery status so they can articulate that back to customers,” said Johnson. “An integrated device that supports voice and data is what we are seeing as requirements for the transportation industry.”

Using a wireless data device in the truck can cut back on human error and eliminate the time between the actual information capture and when the company uses it.

Improved safety is another benefit. The dispatcher, whether it is a full brokerage firm or the wife of an O/O, is fully aware of what is going on with the vehicle at all times, said Pam Ferguson, product manager of asset tracking and logistics for Rogers Wireless.

“This technology is a big development when it comes to the concept of the long-haul driver alone on the road because you’re looking at increased safety for the driver,” said Ferguson. “As well, being able to pick up more loads along the way and fully maximize their routes offers drivers a chance to increase the number of revenue miles.”

Vehicle point checks along the highway and full maintenance reports directly from the vehicle are also possible with wireless data communication devices, added Ferguson. And even more practical logistics tasks like signature captures or taking a snapshot of a load at a loading dock is a benefit as well.

With this kind of technology in hand, the driver doesn’t need to deal with paperwork, said Johnson. And the company can build a customer profile faster when using wireless data communication because the information is instantly entered into the system.

“Companies can get their bills out to customers faster, which really pulls in their sales numbers,” said Wilson. “We’ve seen a turnaround time with one customer decrease by 21 days so it’s pretty significant.”

Drivers are much more plugged in now than they previously were in a traditional voice and paper world, said Ferguson, partially because companies tend to roll out the technology in phases. A smaller company, which may not be ready to jump into the investment, can start with an entry solution that offers routing and mapping and text messaging and eventually graduate into a full dispatching, scheduling and work order management system, she said.

Wireless providers are continually improving their networks and partnering with other providers to give customers more personalized services.

Wireless companies generally perform full needs analyses with fleet managers in order to understand the company’s challenges and environment and then build a business case around that to help companies understand how their return on an investment will work. Then solutions partners are brought in to see which product would best suit their needs.

“One thing we try to do is capture some of the successes we’ve had in the past. Laying out these stories for customers becomes a very powerful tool to see how we’ve brought to life some of these solutions,” said Ferguson. “It is very helpful for a fleet manager to hear another trucking company’s story.”

In terms of the future of wireless communication, while there is still a place for the traditional hand-held cellular phone, mainly for social communication and as a secondary device, drivers are using fewer minutes and cellular bills are being reduced significantly, said Wilson.

“Customers want all applications available from one place so the convergence of information in a usable and meaningful format is a very base part of it, and the next step is the convergence of the hardware itself,” said Wilson. “I think we will continue to see all of these new functionalities coming out being packed together into one little device.”

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