GPS Fleet Tracking: Telematics Communications Options

Fleet management and tracking systems are now essential to the efficient operation of virtually any size commercial fleet. Not only has the rapid return on investment been proven out by improved safety, enhanced operator behavior and the prevention of vehicle and load theft, but now the benefits associated with reduced fuel consumption through lower speed and efficient asset utilization compound the justification.

One of the most important decisions to be made during the system evaluation process is related to the communication method used to transmit data such as speed, location, and status of the vehicle or asset. This data may be very time sensitive, but cost tradeoffs and the fleet management requirements ought to drive the most appropriate system selection.

Fleet Tracking Systems

Real-time GPS tracking systems designed for fleet management typically include a GPS receiver and a cellular data modem or satellite data modem as well as the computing electronics to gather and interpret vehicle data. The tracking equipment receives signals from GPS satellites enabling it to calculate the location, speed and direction of the vehicle. This information is combined with other important status data about the vehicle and is used for modifying driver behavior, fleet maintenance, logistics management and optimizing asset allocation to jobs and routes.

Vehicle Data Transmission

The vehicle tracking unit is connected to the ignition system or Engine Control Module (ECM) which enables it to record ignition on/off events, idle durations and other engine health data. All asset data collected by the unit is then typically transferred from the vehicle to a vendor hosted web application for viewing and analysis by fleet and crew managers. Various standard and customized reports may be generated in real-time to understand status and history of any asset in the fleet. At this point, there is a significant vendor selection choice based upon the requirements of the fleet manager and return on investment expectations of the operation.

The data gathered and interpreted is transferred What is Fleet Management System? wirelessly via cellular or satellite data network. Tradeoffs in communication quality, transmission immediacy and signal availability must be considered and weighed with regard to the urgency of fleet asset awareness and subsequent action. Vehicle assets in remote areas where cell coverage is unreliable or non-existent will delay data transmission until a signal is located, assuming the vehicle is still moving. This delay may compromise appropriate response after the information is interpreted.

Satellite equipped tracking solutions provide the most reliable and expedient transmission of asset data, but come at a higher cost of capital equipment on the vehicle and a higher cost of monthly communications subscriptions. However, very quick awareness of asset data on the order of seconds can be achieved with systems that use all satellite communications and are based on systems such as the Iridium network of 66 cross-linked satellites.

Driver Communication

When the decision for satellite enabled fleet management solutions is made, the transmission benefits also apply to the two-way messaging and custom location-tagged texting that is provided with these systems. This allows personnel to continually communicate from remote locations and can be especially important for compliance with Work Alone programs or where continuous awareness of asset location and status is critical to the mission of the organization and efficient operation of the fleet.

Disaster Preparedness

Some organizations such as the government agencies must be prepared and enabled to communicate in any situation. Communications are the critical path for relief in emergency and disaster situations. Cellular networks can suffer from on the ground damage and are susceptible to the overload of calls that naturally occur in such a situation. This was painfully clear in the recent Los Angeles earthquake on July 29, 2008, where excessive calls on both landlines and cell phones caused disruption to receipt of 911 calls. One wireless carrier reported an 800% spike in call volume for that period.

Satellite communication has been deemed essential in these cases because this form of wireless infrastructure is not susceptible to damage from ground-based disasters and is not subject to the large increase in call volume. In the case of the Iridium network, the main repeaters sending and receiving signals are located outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

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