Wireless Tracking, Location Systems Are Key Apps

NEW ORLEANS (03/02/2000) - Web-enabled wireless tracking and location systems could soon become a vital part of the e-commerce economy, according to analysts and vendors here at the annual Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association conference.

Ben Reuille, president of Diamond Delivery Inc. in Fort Wayne, Ind., views his satellite-based vehicle tracking system essential to his just-in-time delivery business for the automotive industry. Diamond uses its vehicle tracking system to deliver information to a map-based Web site provided by Bfound.com, a mobile location service provider.

Reuille said the ability of his automotive customers such as Ford Motor Co. to track delivery of vital parts is an imperative "because if they don't get a delivery on time, they would have to shut down an entire (auto) assembly line.'' Though expensive, satellite-based location systems are already used by large and small transportation companies. New systems - which derive location information from cellular telephones - should make location information ubiquitous and cheap.

Mats Gerschman president of Victoria, British Columbia-based Bfound, said his company has formed a partnership with TruePosition Inc. in Wayne, Pa., to tap into location information derived from cellular telephone networks.

Gerschman said cellular-derived location information - mandated by the Federal Communications Commission to help locate 911 emergency callers by October 2002 - will save shippers and transportation companies from "having to install very expensive satellite hardware.'' Vehicles equipped with cellular telephones would feed their location information into a Bfound.com map database, which would enable users to not only locate a vehicle within 100 meters or better, but also automatically determine its speed and direction.

David Hose, president of SignalSoft Inc. in Boulder, Colo., said his company has developed software for wireless carriers to help them turn the FCC-mandated location information into "value-added services'' hosted on Web databases. The software, called Local.info, matches a user's location with databases for that location "by filtering content based on information,'' Hose said.

That means a stranger to a new city, for example, could use the software to locate nearby Chinese restaurants, said Hose. That information could be delivered to the user as a simple text message to a phone handset.

Hose sees other business-to-business applications for SignalSoft users, based on what he calls the "where is the nearest'' question. For example, a trucker would be able to locate a company-approved service station, or a repairman could locate an outlet for a part he needs to finish a rush job.

A number of companies - including TruePosition, Qualcomm Inc. and U.S. Wireless - are all vying to sign deals with cellular carriers by October, when the carriers must identify their location solution plan to the FCC.

Cell-Loc Inc.in Calgary, Alberta, envisions such a rich business in value-added location services that it plans to provide 911 information to cellular carriers free of charge in exchange for what vice president Jeff Turnquist calls "real estate'' on cell towers and base stations to house its location determination gear.

Cell-Loc, Turnquist said, plans to build its own North American location determination network and sell information to anyone who wants it via the Internet. Carriers "won't need to buy any equipment because we'll act as a service provider,'' Turnquist said. Cell-Loc Web sites will be used to manage everything from fleet tracking "to finding your lost cat" if the tabby wears a collar equipped with a mini cell phone transmitter, Turnquist said.

Alan Reiter, a wireless communications analyst, said Web-enabled location systems have "an enormous potential in the e-commerce space," but quickly added that "no one has yet come up with the killer location technology.''

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