New Fleet Applications Emerge Using Wi-Fi Technology
What does Dayton, Ohio, have in common with the cities of Aurora, Colo.; Corpus Christi, Texas; Milpitas, Calif., New Orleans; San Mateo, Calif.; North Miami Beach, Fla.; Oklahoma City and Philadelphia? It will become the latest in a growing number of municipalities that have built or plan to build Wi-Fi networks that will turn their entire city into a wireless hot spot.
As background, Wi-Fi is short for wireless fidelity. It is typically a free, public wireless Internet network in a specific area, known as a hot spot, which can range from a building to an entire city. The network allows people with wireless laptops, cell phones, and other portable Web-enabled devices to access the Web in public areas without connecting to a landline system. As installation costs have plummeted, Wi-Fi applications are mush-rooming. The hot buzz nowadays is mobile hot spots or Wi-Fi-capable cars. Fleets, once again, are the early adopters of this new Internet-based technology.
Fleets Lead the Way
The City of Corpus Christi, in October 2004, added Wi-Fi re-ceivers supplied by Tropos Networks across the 147-square-mile town to read utility meters. Now, gas and water meters can be quickly read from city vehicles driving down the street, rather than by meter readers who have to physically walk onto properties and manually record customer consumption. Wi-Fi also gives Corpus Christi police and fire fighters in the field access to vital Web-based information through wireless laptop computers in their 315 vehicles. In-vehicle deployment of devices to access metro-scale Wi-Fi networks provides public sector fleet managers with dra-matic new capabilities. For instance Corpus Christi has cameras installed at various intersections; however, only the city’s street department is currently using them. With Wi-Fi, fire fighters could use these cameras to zoom in on a traffic accident or fire when first reported, to determine the appropriate equipment to dispatch.
Another trailblazer, the City of Milpitas, Calif., launched a high-speed wireless network for its police department in June 2004. The Wi-Fi network, also supplied by Tropos Networks, gives police officers in the field access to high-resolution photos; incident video feeds, and detailed crime databases through in-vehicle computer systems. The network also delivers real-time video from cameras monitoring high-traffic areas. Milpitas plans to expand this application to motorcycle patrols and the city’s Fire Department, which plans to use the system to access hazardous-materials databases, traffic video, and mobile-dispatch applica-tions. Other Milpitas municipal workers – such as building inspectors, traffic engineers, and code enforcement officers – are also expected to use the network.
Fleet Applications are Tremendous
The potential of mobile hot spots for both commercial and consumer applications is tremendous. Once vehicles gain access to wireless networks, suppliers are anticipated to rush to provide content delivery over those networks. For instance, the U.S. Department of Transportation considers Wi-Fi as a potential means for creating a nationwide road safety network. The network could give real-time traffic and weather alerts, delivered to vehicles as they pass a transmitter.
Businesses, likewise, see value in Wi-Fi applications. A recent industry survey by Gartner Inc. estimates that traveling workers can gain 30 minutes a day in productivity using hot spots. Using a Wi-Fi connection, field service personnel can access their corporate networks, run applications, send and receive work orders and job status information, retrieve schematics, or access e-mail – anytime, anywhere.
Last October, @Road, Inc., a provider of mobile resource management services, and Nextel Communications launched @Road Mobile HotSpot, a new in-vehicle Wi-Fi system designed to span mid-sized and large field service, delivery, and transportation companies. It is currently beta testing the system with several fleets.
By wirelessly connecting a laptop or Internet-enabled handset into the @Road Mobile HotSpot, mobile workers can instantly access manuals, customer records, update inventory, place orders or review their next assignment. Company drivers will have real-time secure access to back office data and applications, eliminating the need for multiple devices to access this information. The benefits to businesses include real-time updates at the point of business, centralized administration and job status information via a Web-based control panel, and on-demand location of a nation-wide mobile workforce on-demand by viewing them on customizable maps.
“The field worker is now real-time enabled,” said David Al-moslino, director of marketing for @Road. “The unit that we install in the vehicle is a combination device—GPS, wireless mo-dem communicating with the cellular data networks, and it’s a Wi-Fi hot spot. Fleet managers only need a browser and an Internet connection, and they’re able to see and manage their fleet.”
Let me know what you think about Wi-Fi fleet applications.