Vehicle And Mobile Phone Tracking For Fleet and Sales Management Solutions in Thailand Today
M.L. Saksiri Kridakorn
Vice President of Information System
Whitman Corporation, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Mr. Pongpuk Nikompukdee
Computer Science and Aeronautical Engineering
Northrop University, California, USA
With availability of detailed and accurate digital map, improved GPS sensitivity and wide coverage of GSM network in Thailand and Malaysia today, fleet and sales managers now new tools available for them to make their work easier and more efficient. Vehicle tracking using GPS based devices and mobile phone tracking in combination offer tools that can make these managers’ tasks easier and much more effective. MappointAsia is a developer and leading provider of these asset tracking solutions for Southeast Asia. These systems can help cut costs while offering better services to the customers. This paper briefly describes the technology employed by MappointAsia, basic functions, categories of applicaition in Thailand and what are the benefits and key items to look for when considering employing such technology.
Logistic planning and fleet management are critical to today’s businesses and industries. Everything we consume is delivered to us via trucks. Even as Internet now offers alternatives to many of the traditional functions of the supply chain, such as sales functions and retail stores, the one part that has not been eliminated is the transportation of goods to and from businesses and delivery to consumers. Timely delivery of supplies constitutes vital pipe lines that keep our factories producing in an efficient manner. And delivery of goods to consumers make retails services easier and more convenient. In Southeast Asia, industrial complexes run on the wheels of trucking industry and home delivery is becoming more a part of everyday life.
To gain an advantage in the transportation industry, transportation and logistic companies today are relying more and more on modern technology and tools to help optimize their usage of transportation and delivery fleets. For the fleet managers and logistic professionals in Thailand and Malaysia, there are today several locally developed software and systems that can help in logistical planning and fleet management.
Vehicle Tracking Technology
Vehicle tracking system is an integrated solution based on several technology.
Mobile Phone Tracking Technology Implemented in Thailand
- VTU – The hardware component that goes into the vehicles being tracked. The VTU is perhaps the most important component. As it is installed in the vehicle, it has to be ruggedized and trouble-free during the operation. Units that require frequent servicing makes the system unreliable and defeats the purpose for which it was intended.
- Communication – The medium by which the location of the vehicle is transmitted to the tracking center and exchanges of messages between the VTU and the center. The most widely used medium today for vehicle tracking is GSM network. Coupled with the wide coverage and growing penetration to rural areas, GSM operators are offering valued packages that can be immediately employed. Today GPRS and SMS represent the most cost effective way to communicate between the VTU and the tracking center.
Low Orbit Satellite messaging system offers another communication medium when trucks are out of GSM coverage. Services such as ORBCOMM’s SMS services can compliment GSM coverage for areas that do not have GSM coverage. While GPRS service over GSM network can be used for continuous coverage, satellite SMS can be used for lower frequency coverage and extends tracking of vehicle to outside GSM area to near real-time. Hybrid units combining both GSM and satellite will soon be available.
- Maps – The digital map information that allows position of the vehicles to be displayed and tracked clearly. Digital map, as opposed to raster map or picture, is also necessary in order to calculate routes and compute other information necessary to generate warnings and reports. High resolution satellite imagery, when employed on top of a good digital map, can give the users an easier-to-understand view of the situation and awareness of the area under tracking.
- Software – The software component integrates all of these various technology and components into a highly capable and user friendly system and interface. It is not enough to be able to see real-time positions of vehicles on a map. To be effective, the system must be capable of generating routine and exception reports that can be used to manage a fleet. Such information as driving violations, out of route conditions, out of zone conditions, trigger condition of on-board sensors as well as driver behaviors
Mobile phones are now a necessary part of running a business. Companies have come to rely on the mobility of these phones to efficiently run their operations or service customers. When this mobility is combined with the knowledge of their locations, the efficiency of using mobile phones is greatly enhanced. Today there are only a few mobile phone companies worldwide offering mobile phone tracking based only on the GSM network capability with accuracy better just cell tower coverage area. MappointAsia, has developed a service for tracking mobile phones to within one tenth the area of a cell site coverage, generally 100+ meter accuracy in an urban area to 2 KM in rural areas. This is done without any overt action on the part of the mobile phone. Since mid 2005, this service is being offered in Thailand in conjunction with Advance Info Services (AIS), the largest mobile phone operator in Thailand.
How mobile phone tracking technology works
MappointAsia employs a system that uses information available to cell phone operators as a matter of course to determine location of any mobile phones within the GSM network. The system uses Timing Advance methodology to determine relative position of the phone from a cell site. When combined with an accurate map of the cell tower locations, a good position of the mobile phone can be calculated. This is done without any action of the mobile phone user and does not send any information to the phone to know that it is being tracked. A location server is installed at the mobile phone operator’s site connected to the internal server which, in turn, serves as the gateway and connects to the mobile phone locator server via the Internet. The diagram below shows how this works in Thailand.
Because the issue of personal privacy, today the service is only being offered to commercial entities, not to general consumers. However as the technology can also be used when dealing with consumer and public safety, it is likely that consumers will be offered a mobile phone tracking service in the near future.
Commercialization of the service today requires that the person being tracked signs a consent form. The tracking PC is then loaded with the software and map. When in operation, the PC must be connected to the Internet. The request is then sent to the tracking server at MappointAsia which then passes the request to the server at the mobile operator. After the request is serviced, the data is sent back to the PC for display of the location.
The figures above shows the display of the tracking in Bangkok. If the the cell site is in a building with limited coverage, the location will display as a small circle for the phone being tracked.
An Application of mobile phone tracking
Accuracy of mobile phone tracking varies with the size of the cell site coverage and varies from 200 meters to several kilometers. Still the location of the phone can be very useful depending on the application. One of our customers uses the system to track area coverage by the sales team. They have found that employing mobile phone tracking gives a more accurate picture of sales activities and coverage over the country
Next Generation Mobile Phone Tracking
It is commonly accepted that positioning by GPS is much more accurate than GSM network triangulation. However GPS consumes large amount of power and only works well when exposed to a view of the sky. This reduces the usefulness of the current generation of GPS equipped phones. When GPS is employed, the standby time of a phone is greatly reduced. A-GPS (Aided GPS) phone which combines the GPS accuracy with GSM network capability to keep the phone updated with GPS ephemeris and server assisted calculation to reduce on-board computation promises to give better accuracy and longer in-use time for mobile phones. Such system are being tested in Thailand. Employment of A-GPS tracking units are expected by the year 2007.
Importance of accurate digital maps with traffic rules
In the past 5 years high quality digital maps have become available for Thailand and Malaysia. These maps continue to improve in their qualities and today are accurate and available from several map makers. However from the point of view of logistic professionals, maps can be viewed as non-navigable maps or navigable maps. As the names imply, non-navigable maps are maps that cannot be used to define routings and do not have traffic rules and regulations as part of their database. Paper map and raster map are examples of the simplest form of basic non-navigable maps. Most digital maps used in Thailand for popular Geographic Information System software such as Map Info, Arc/Info or Geo Media are usually non-navigable maps. Navigable maps are digitals maps that have been especially prepared and usually comform to accepted standard of GDF format, http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Geographic%20Data%20Files
GDF is a format specifically defined for car navigation and related applications. Additional information on GDF can be found at http://roadmap.teleatlas.com/iso_gdf.pdf
. Like ISO standard, a company must adopt the practice and standard of GDF before being able to fully able to generate navigable map that can be imported into logistic applications. Generally the ability to generate GDF map by a mapping company is a necessary condition to offer logistically useful digital maps for optimization software.
GDF standards specifically include traffic regulations as part of the digital map. This is especially important in major Southeast Asia cities, like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, for logistic applications related to routings. If for example the road network of the map does not consider one-ways and U-turns, a short route from one customer to the next can be off by more than 30 minutes even though the distance may be less than 5 KM. Consider the case of Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok where vehicles can only reach desired destinations by being in a specific lane. If a fleet dispatcher put several customers that are on both sides of Sukhumvit Road on the same route, the efficiency may be less than using 2 trucks and having each servicing separate sides of the street.
Satellite imagery today are more readily available than in the past. While not a substitute for updated map data, it can serve as a very good back ground when used in conjunction with map data. Location of vehicles can be easily uploaded for display on websites such as www.pointasia.com or on Google Earth. It is expected that more of this type of interface will be made available for display. Even though not useful for report generation, most users find this type display intuitive and pleasing.
Fleet Management Solutions
When searching for logistic technology to help your company, it is important that you consider the whole solution as an integrated system. It is not likely that one company’s product will work with another. Solutions from different companies will not integrate seamlessly causing inefficiencies in your own workflow. The figure below shows relationship between several systems that form Fleet Management Solution.
These systems are available in Thailand and Malaysia today and can integrate with your workflow and existing IT system. These map-based solutions can be used in order entry, route planning, dispatching and daily route scheduling, real-time vehicle tracking, driver behavior report, vehicle black box recording and fleet management.
Map-based order entry
For many companies, initial contacts with customers come via an order entry system. Whether by phone or in person, order entry allows the sales personnel to gather necessary information, including exact location of the customer on our map, for the logistic manager to begin to efficiently manage the usage of company delivery fleet. Each business is different, but map-based systems can be integrated into your order entry system seamlessly so that it becomes part of the order entry workflow. Many companies are now using MappointAsia’s maps as part of their order entry system.
In order to efficiently route vehicles on a daily basis, territories must be divided so that each customer can be efficiently serviced. Territory Planning tools uses the street network map to help allocate customers to specific warehouses. Parameters such as maximum drive time to customer and warehouse capacities are entered to help construct routes so that what-if analysis can easily be performed. Territory Planning can also assist in your expansion of warehouses, customers and territories.
Daily Route Scheduling
Daily Route Scheduling is one of the most complex tasks that a dispatch manager has to do. It is also the one task that has a very large potential for cost savings. Once the
number of routes starts to reach double digits, the combination of customers, trucks and products as well as having to be familiar with the street network and traffic rules can make route scheduling an onerous task. Route Scheduling Program can help save up to 20% of deliver fleet costs. In many cases, trucks can be reduced and customers can be more serviced better. More over dependency on a single human route dispatcher can lead to a bottle neck and loss of expertise when that person leaves the company. Route Scheduling program contains much of the expertise employed by such dispatcher in a database and is generally used as an aid to the dispatcher’s daily duties.
After the trucks are dispatched, it continues to be the responsibility of the fleet manager to continue monitoring the fleet. With latest technology available today, solutions have been developed that allows the fleet managers to track the company fleet in real-time. Employing Global Positioning System, GPS, and using cell phone operator’s GSM network, vehicle tracking system allows constant monitoring of the whole fleets as well as communicating directly with the driver by voice or by text messages. By knowing the actual location and real-time status of the service vehicles, emergencies can be handled and priority customers can be serviced or added on to routes in progress. The dispatch manager can assign the nearest or most available vehicle resulting in better service level as well as cost savings.
Because vehicle tracking is a new technology and composes of several technologies integrated together, an important consideration when choosing a vendor is whether the company owns and control each technology or just a reseller. Solution from a company that supplies all components including hardware/firmware, software and map technology will work more seamlessly and smoothly over a system of patchwork components. At MappointAsia we are the developer of all the components and by not having to rely on outside suppliers we are able to customize solutions, implement and service customers quickly and efficiently.
GPS only works when it is exposed to a view of the sky. If the GPS signal is lost due to blockage of this signal or if the antenna is defective or tampered with, GPS will not work. As a fall back to GPS, mobile phone tracking are employed. This allows the tracking of the vehicle to be done even when GPS signal is not available or if the GPS antenna has been tampered with. This location query depends on the capability of the GSM network and is accurate to within approximately one-tenth of the cell coverage area. This function has been implemented for Thailand by MappointAsia on the network of Advance Info Services (AIS).
Implementation of vehicle tracking system on a commercial scale can be technically challenging. There are several ways to implement the solution depending on the size of the fleet and requirements. The figure below shows 4 possible implementations configurations for different fleet customers.
For details on the technical aspect please visit http://www.mappointasia.com/products/vehicle_tracking_system.asp
Driver Behavior Monitoring and accident logging
It is commonly accepted that drivers’ behavior has direct effect on the operating efficiency of the vehicles as well as the rate of occurrences of accidents. An efficient and conscientious driver can save fuel cost and lower accident rates. Researchers has found that by monitoring driver behavior and using proper feedbacks, drivers can develop better driving habits thus saving costs. Some vehicle tracking units (VTU’s) allows drivers’ behavior to be monitored directly by the dispatcher and logged for thorough analysis later back at the office. Operators and dispatchers can be immediately warned when the vehicle is over speeding, jerky acceleration or abrupt braking. Other vehicle functions such as light switches, rain wipers or other appropriate vehicle conditions can be monitored and logged for accident or driver analysis back at the office.
Vehicle tracking is a new technology, but one that is here to stay. Every fleet manager wants to have real-time knowledge about his vehicles. Today the cost of operation can be less than 25 U$ per month bringing this technology to company fleets of every size.
Combining Technologies for effectiveness
Vehicle and mobile phone tracking services form a basis for both sales managers and fleet managers to do a better job of serving customers. Both technologies have been
used in Thailand by various companies to monitor sales and delivery services. Mobile phone tracking also gives fleet managers a backup solution in case of stolen vehicles. While not highly publicized to the general public (for obvious reasons), several cases of stolen vehicles in Thailand and other high-valued assets in Malaysia have been recovered by simply tracking them directly to the last position at rest. In some case where the perpetrators have severed the GPS cable, the last position area determined by mobile phone tracking have given police enough information to locate the vehicle and apprehend the culprits.
Current Implementation in Thailand
Implementation of tracking in Thailand can be classified into 3 categories.
- Security. Security refers to those end-users who are involved in high value cargoes or assets. These include armored cars for money and bank documents, anti-theft in automobile and car rental services. For these customers the cost of the goods or asset being tracked much outweighs the cost of the tracking service.
- Transport and delivery. It makes technological and efficiency sense to dispatch managers to implement vehicle tracking. This is the largest segment available as potential end-users. In Thailand there are over 500,000 deliver vehicles. Less than 10% have implemented vehicle tracking.
- Field Work Force Management. This category refers to management of field work force such as police patrol, accident investigation by insurance companies, road assistance service and utility field service work. While the private sector in Thailand has quickly begun to embrace this technology, public sector has only seen sparse implementation except for the Bangkok Police.
In Thailand vehicle tracking was first implemented in 1997 by the Bangkok Metropolitan Police emergency call and dispatch center. Way ahead of the current technology wave, the Bangkok police implemented its own digital trunk radio specifically for this project. Today’s project could be done at a fraction of the cost of this implementation. The pictures below show the first implementation of vehicle tracking in Thailand in police patrol cars.
Equipment in a Bangkok Police patrol car
Tracking patrol cars at the emergency call center.
With low labor rate and good highways, transportation and delivery service industry in Thailand and Malaysia are areas of the highest competition in Southeast Asia. The purpose of using these new technology is to make companies more efficient and thus more competitive. Now vehicle and mobile phone tracking systems are available today complete with accurate street map of Thailand, Malaysia and Singpore. It is up to the fleet and sales managers to evaluate and embrace them if he is to grow technically and stay ahead of the competitors.
Today mobile phone tracking is being employed by several companies in Thailand to track and improve their personnel and sales function management. As described above it is also being used as emergency backup for vehicle theft situation. As technology improves and its tracking becomes more accurate, it is seen that mobile phone tracking will be come more useful. When combines with the issue of consumer and public safety, mobile phone tracking should become common in the near future.