Former travel agent Kevin Short, and bus operator Austin Birks, saw an opportunity in the public bus and coach market space recognising that embracing smart phone technology could change the behavioural drivers of passengers forever. Provide real-time information to their handsets notifying the passenger of the bus’s precise time of arrival at their stop, and the uncertainty of not knowing when the next bus might come along would be rid of. And whilst for many, digital signage located at the bus stop might be seen as a step in the right direction, Short and Birks believed that the wasted time waiting by the side of the road was avoidable
UTrack’s presence in the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe was initially challenged as the then start-up operation was faced with crippling costs of entry when connecting their clients’ fleets over the mobile network. A recommendation by Alpha Micro, UTrack’s partner tracking unit provider, led founders Kevin Short and Austin Birks to meet with Wireless Logic, Europe’s leading aggregator of M2M connectivity. The outcome sees UTrack today successfully opening new accounts across the UK, France, Spain and shortly, Poland.
Armed with precise details of the bus’s progress, even if it were delayed, would enable the passenger to continue with their shopping, work, or any activity knowing with confidence that they wouldn’t miss the bus. Short also recognised that whilst expensive tracking applications in their many guises had been the domain of larger fleet operators, few had seen the consumer benefits by linking the operational data to the benefit of consumers. Short and Birks further realised that such systems could be replaced by a much lower cost cloud application – opening up the potential for a consumer and business information model, available to every size of fleet operator.
The tracking device and middleware
Developed and provided by Alpha Micro, leading experts in the fields of GSM, GPRS and GPS, the SIM-based tracking solution developed for UTrack has been designed to meet the needs of small and larger fleet operators alike. The system delivers real-time positional data back for the operator to monitor scheduling and movements.
The vehicle tracking connectivity challenge
Approaching the major mobile networks, UTrack found that the upfront costs in setting up data connectivity for tracking devices were way in excess of their budgeted figures. Coupled with this, as a start-up, initial SIM quantities were prohibitively high. The UTrack team presented the data connectivity challenge to Wireless Logic’s business development team.
Matt McPherson explains: “Talking to UTrack, we realised that such an organisation would need a tailored package of connectivity; competitive, flexible and with low quantities at the outset. We also identified that UTrack’s plan to work with a single network offering was not right for this potential pan-European offering. Consequently, we were able to create a number tariff choices across multiple networks, with final network selection based upon location and optimised signal strength.”
The Alpha Micro tracking device in each bus or coach transmits positional data every 30 seconds to the operator’s control centre. A Wireless Logic data SIM within the device is switched on at point of installation, the network selected based upon a coverage audit of the fleet’s area of operation. Day to day monitoring of an operator’s SIM base can be controlled by Wireless Logic’s SIMPro system – this enables an operator to access, monitor and control an entire SIM base through one window; SIM provisioning, two-way SMS communication, data activity reports and tariff management. For international fleet movements, a choice of roaming SIMs are available.
The consumer app
Designed for iPhone and Android devices, the consumer app that interfaces with the tracking data has been developed to deliver precise location, current speed and ETA directly to a passenger’s smart phone. The app can provide ticketing information, live arrival/departure flight information and a platform that can enable the operator to evolve a range of customer relationship initiatives to encourage loyalty and sales promotion.
UTrack in action
Today, UTrack are working with fleet operators of all sizes, delivering value-based data to passengers, and vital consumer profiling to the operational management teams that can help them fine-tune their routing and frequency of bus travel. As an example of the product’s effectiveness, airport to city operator Dublin Coach has seen a 300% increase in passenger numbers over a 12 month period. Trials are also taking place in several European countries, with upgrades of the consumer app in the pipeline ready to deliver more benefit-driven information to improve the user/passenger experience. SIM connectivity is a seamless aspect of the entire operation with fleet trials and resulting SIM orders managed by the Wireless Logic team based in Hurley, Berkshire, UK.
Wireless Logic was able to see the great potential in our earliest days of market entry. With their foresight, we could financially model the final and intrinsic part of our connectivity jigsaw. They gave us a choice of tariffs, the opportunity to test and trial several networks, and an overall wireless package to make the UTrack offer compelling. For us, it’s one phone call that gives us access to every mobile network operator, supported by an account team who are as passionate about our business as we are.