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Cutting the cords

CALGARY, Alta. - For years, trucking companies have understood the linchpin to success is keeping the lines of communication open between the cab and the office. But in the ever-changing world of wire...


LONDON CALLING: Cell phones remain the backbone of in-cab communications.
LONDON CALLING: Cell phones remain the backbone of in-cab communications.

CALGARY, Alta. – For years, trucking companies have understood the linchpin to success is keeping the lines of communication open between the cab and the office. But in the ever-changing world of wireless communications, efficiency is king and newer is generally better.

In order to stay on top of the latest trends, fleet owners need to learn the ins and outs of tools like cellular and satellite phones, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), fuel-tax calculators and in-cab computers.

There are so many wireless options available on the market today that carrying one of each would likely put your rig overweight. But some of the new developments are so advantageous, that ignoring them will definitely impact a fleet’s ability to stay competitive.

Hello, Sputnik?

Murray Mullen, president and chief executive officer of Alberta-based Mullen Transportation, says that it’s essential to keep up with the latest in wireless communications.

“Being connected is absolutely imperative today,” stresses Mullen.

His fleet runs northern-Alberta’s oilfields, and although his driver’s are often far from the beaten trail, they are never out of reach.

“We use satellite technology which we’ve had since 1990,” says Mullen. “We’ll typically use cell phones in local areas, but once you get outside and you’re paying for long distance, it’s pretty expensive.”

That’s when Mullen’s drivers bring out the satellite phones.

Globalstar Canada offers fleets the ability to stay in touch with their drivers – wherever they may roam.

“A lot of trucking companies go into areas where they are out of cellular range,” says Globalstar Canada marketing manager Mary Fong. “Our satellite phones give them the portability of being able to have communication with them wherever they go.”

A satellite phone unit costs about $1,495 and service starts at $27.95 per month, but Fong insists the satellite phone is the perfect compliment to the cell phones currently used by most truckers.

“We’re not trying to replace the cellular phone, we are an enhancement of it,” says Fong. “If you are in locations where you do not have any other form of communication, this is your only option.”

You’ve got mail

Staying connected is an important part of any trucker’s daily life. And while staying in touch with the dispatcher is obviously important, finding a cost-effective way to remain connected to home life is critical nowadays.

As long as you don’t mind hunting down a few consonants and the odd vowel on the keyboard, PeopleNet now offers a free e-mail service within its Web-based, communication packages for fleets.

Company founder and executive vice-president, David Ladner, says the added feature helps solve one of the industry’s biggest challenges – driver retention.

“Our mission is really to address the broader business issues that affect trucking companies. Issues like driver retention, better communication and reducing operating costs,” explains Ladner. “(Driver e-mail) has been widely accepted in the States and what we’re seeing is that drivers just love the feature.”

If you’re able to stay in constant contact with loved ones, they don’t seem quite so far away.

PeopleNet’s packages can be customized to offer the features that a fleet needs most, and they begin at about $899 per base unit.

Other data-collection options include programs that glean things like a driver’s average speed and fuel consumption.

“This allows the customer to set objectives and through this Web-based tool we can actually measure how their performance is, based on what their objectives are,” says Ladner.

Higher gear

Truckers who demand the ultimate in wireless communications, can install an in-cab computer such as Cadec’s Mobius TTS. Cadec spokeswoman Susan Fall, says that just as every office now has a computer, each trucker should have the option of having a computer in their office – the cab of their truck.

“Mobius gives the drivers, the dispatch, the company president and anyone involved visibility and control over how their products are being shipped and handled,” says Fall. “If you look back to when people first got computers in their offices, what a difference that made. Mobius is putting that type of intelligence, flexibility and power into the truck.”

In-cab computers can be customized to offer whatever options the driver will utilize, be it e-mail or spreadsheets and databases.

“Communication is actually just a small part of it,” says Fall. “Do they want it to be an off-the-shelf dispatch product, or maybe an in-house product?”

The avenues open to fleets are endless – the challenge will always remain: How much is enough? n


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