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Verizon Triangulates on Location Apps

Verizon Wireless is looking for a bigger slice of the emerging location services market with its newly released Field Force Manager software.

People and asset tracking via GPS phones and other devices has traditionally been dominated by companies like Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM)'s telematics unit, although carriers such as Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) have been pushing their business offerings recently as well. (See Location Services Lost on Users and Telematics on Track.) Verizon now has a low-cost, Web-based application aimed at small and medium-sized business users.

The software allows the business office to map the location of field workers, jobs, and other activities in "near real-time"; schedule and dispatch jobs; and receive fleet, job, and worker reports, on a browser. The application enables workers to submit timecards, customer, and job data back to the office, and get driving directions to new jobs from their wireless devices.

The application is available for Verizon subscribers using the Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) V.325 handset. The operator is offering a basic version for $30 that includes worker location and tracking, simple job dispatch, and text-based driving directions. There's also an advanced packaged for $50, which includes all the basic features plus workflow management and audible driving directions. Both packages include the handset application and Web portal access, deployment assistance, customer training, and unlimited data transport.

Some users are already working with these kinds of systems. Manny Singh, IT director at disposable dinnerware company Prairie Packaging of Bedford Park, Ill., has been running a similar beta system from Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) since last October.

Singh uses the system to track products between the company’s manufacturing and distribution facilities. The tracking data from the driver’s GPS-enabled handsets is sent back to a PC at the main office, and the mapped locations are projected onto a 42-inch screen.

"Manufacturing, as product is shipped, are supposed to notify distribution that a truckload is on the way," explains Singh. "This doesn't always happen, so what we've done is set up an 'electric fence' of sorts, that, once a truck is past a certain point, it emails distribution to prepare a loading bay."

What Singh is looking for from the next generation of location products is greater accuracy so that he can track more diverse assets.

“What we would like to start tracking is things like forklift trucks. The system doesn't offer us the granularity to do that right now… It can locate assets to a city block, but it can't tell us where it is on that block -- not yet, anyway."

Such advances will likely require carriers to invest more in enhancing GPS location tracking by pulling in more time and location data from their terrestrial networks. This has already started with the introduction of "enhanced-GPS" handsets and services. But as phones that can move between different networks -- such as WiFi and WiMax -- come on the market, carriers may be able to triangulate a user's position with even more accuracy.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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