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Unplugged: Wireless devices offer more than a phone

The days of clunky, wheel-chock-sized cellular telephones that were the tools of mobile communications in the mid-80s are long behind us. Mobile phones, first introduced in Canada in 1985, now fit in ...


The days of clunky, wheel-chock-sized cellular telephones that were the tools of mobile communications in the mid-80s are long behind us. Mobile phones, first introduced in Canada in 1985, now fit in the palm of your hand and offer everything from E-mail to access to the Internet.

Oh yeah. You can make telephone calls, too.

The latest generation, available in Canada’s largest cities, involve digital Personal Communications Systems (PCS) rather than the analog systems the phones were limited to in the past. With the introduction of digital technology, the phones have a bandwidth that’s wide enough to handle several functions. But which options do you need?

Voice messaging offers a simple answering machine that can provide you with both messages and a call back number, making the need for a pager a thing of the past. So too can the systems receive and display messages on the hand sets. Dispatchers simply feed messages to the services through the appropriate Web site.

The length of the allowable message, however, will depend on your service provider.

The PCS phones can also receive, store and print faxes by forwarding them to a nearby fax machine. That way, you won’t have to wait until you return to the fleet yard to read the contents of a page.

Information services are also expanding, feeding details like traffic reports and weather conditions at pre-determined intervals. These services, however, remain limited to major centres.

Unlike traditional cellular telephones, digital phones are smart enough to conserve battery power: they send out signals of varying strength depending on the distance to a cell site’s antenna.

But don’t limit your understanding of wireless communications to handheld phones. Today, it’s playing a role in everything from load tracking to wireless E-mail services.

“We have fleets as small as five using our system,” says Linda Stanton of PeopleNet Communications, whose InTouch Fleet Management system sends information about load locations over a cellular network. By merging information from a global positioning system, PeopleNet is even able to automatically calculate fuel tax.

“Reducing out-of-route miles is huge,” she says, adding that the approach is more affordable than traditional satellite tracking systems. And since the system is Internet-based, there’s no need to continually buy upgraded software. “It’s like buying a computer and knowing it won’t be out of date in a year,” she says.

Canadian-based Research In Motion, meanwhile, will also allow you to send E-mail messages over a device not much larger than a pager. Its Blackberry system incorporates a small keypad that you can work with your thumb, has a screen offering a series of functions, and can be integrated with your own E-mail mailbox and address.

The cellphone-sized E-mail devices will expand even further this year. Handspring has announced that it will sell a snap-on device for Palm computers that will transform them into mobile phones. It will be in the U.S. by November and will likely find its way to this side of the border shortly after that. n


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Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.
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