By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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|From our editors
Real-Time Tracking Aids Logistics Firm
It can be a crazy environment: Huge, multi-football-field-size yards filled with huge shipping containers awaiting sorting and delivery to trucks and trains. Workers dart among the stacked containers to check manifests and verify locations to determine where the containers are and which to load when. In recent years for NYK Logistics, this business "had grown so much that the existing system couldn't handle the volume," says Rick Pople, the firm's general manager. So the company, which operates near the large Port of Long Beach in Southern California, decided to move to a wireless system to both track the containers and communicate instructions and locations to the on-the-ground crew, known as hostlers.
"A bar-coded container still has to be married to a location, which still involves driving around to see where they are. And if a hostlers doesn't follow instructions properly, location information will be wrong, complicating the movement of containers," Pople says. NYK's facility works with 11 trucking companies, four drayage companies, and a dozen shipping lines, coordinating ocean-borne cargo with terrestrial delivery. "Most large yards work just with domestic carriers or have their own trucks," and thus have less complexity, he notes. NYK's facilities cover 70 acres, and the wireless system typically tracks 700 containers and 300 trailers on any given day.
That's why NYK Logistics is using an 802.11b network to connect terminals in seven tractor cabs to the central operations system, for delivery of instructions and locations to the hostlers. These Wi-Fi radios have a range of about 3,000 feet. The company is also using transponders on each container and trailer to actively monitor its location in the huge yard. The transponders transmit their location every two minutes, though that frequency can be programmed to other intervals.
Tying together the 802.11b network and the transponders is a yard-management software system, which combines NYK's own software with a network and communications package from WhereNet, which also provided the transponders, access points, and 802.11 hardware. The special access points handle both the 802.11 signals and the transponder signals.The industry has been much abuzz of late about radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags, a passive system whose tiny tags reflect back radio signals to a transmitter for use in inventory and tracking. RFID is well suited for replacing bar codes, using inexpensive tags (under 50 cents, and heading to a nickel apiece) on individual product packages. But RFID does not work so well in large spaces, especially for large objects that can obscure the reflected signals of other objects. That's where the active transponders, known as real-time tracking tags, come in: They emit their own signal, with greater range and the ability to cut through other objects. They're also much more expensive, costing $100 or so, depending on volume. But they are reusable, and companies like NYK Logistics remove them for use on other containers once the original containers leave the yard. The transponders have a range of 700 to 1,000 feet outdoors, and 200 to 300 feet indoors. They last five to seven years, assuming a ping interval of three to five minutes.
NYK made the decision to use the real-time tracking system in mid-March. "We needed everything installed by June 1 — we knew that was a tad aggressive, but we wanted a couple months of use before the summer peak season began. We started on June 27," recalls Pople, giving NYK the shakedown time it needed. The only surprise in the implementation was that the transponder signals on short containers sometimes got blocked when surrounded by other, taller containers. The solution was simple: an antenna extension.
"We expect ROI within a year," he notes, on an investment of between $700,000 and $1 million (he declined to be more specific). Pople also notes that the cost of a competing bar-code system "was not significantly less" than the real-time tracking system, plus a bar-code system "requires more labor." Pople hopes that eventually the transponders will become standard equipment on shipping containers, so they can be tracked from factory to final warehouse as they move from one transportation and logistics vendor to another; but he says that this is "years off."
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Legra Systems has released a wireless switch that includes a high-performance cryptography engine that performs encryption-decryption (multiple security suites) functions for up to four data streams simultaneously on a priority basis.
Lok Technology has announced what it calls an open-systems 802.11 infrastructure appliance that provides access control, stateful firewall, intrusion detection, packet capture, SSL proxy, transparent Web cache, bandwidth management, routing, and network administration. The appliance can handle between 100 and 500,000 simultaneous users in an SSL-based virtual private network (VPN), depending on model and amount of cache .
Berkeley Varitronics Systems has released YellowjacketPlus, a portable wireless test receiver system with built-in spectrum analyzer that sweeps, analyzes, optimizes, and secures 5GHz Wi-Fi networks. Its calibrated receiver measures all eight OFDM 802.11a channels for identification of any MAC, SSID, or RSSI signal levels of both access points and wireless network cards on or off the network.
IOGear is entering the Wi-Fi market with several access points, routers, and client adapters.
Antenna manufacturer MaxRad has introduced more than 20 new antenna models designed for Wi-Fi networks operating in ISM, UNII-3, and HiperLAN frequency bands. The new models are part of MaxRad's XtremeWave line of broadband wireless and wireless LAN antennas.
Telular has released the SX4 CDMA2000 1X terminal, which lets companies connect standard telephones, faxes, and computers into its terminal ports to provide wireless access over CDMA2000 1XRTT networks. The company says it supports all traditional fixed wireless applications including wireless local loop, portable dial tone, least cost routing, and telemetry, as well as for wireline replacement application.
Aligo has released the Omni Mobile platform, a software development platform for the creation of wireless and synchronized applications for both Java and Pocket PC devices.
Information Appliance Associates has released PocketMac 3.0, a software package that connects Windows-based Pocket PC handhelds to Macintosh computers and permits wireless Bluetooth and 802.11 synchronization to Apple and Microsoft email and calendar applications.
Asanté Technologies has released Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther) drivers for its wireless adapters.
CMP Books has released two books of interest to IT and network managers implementing wireless and mobile systems: Going Mobile by Keri Hayes and Susan Kuchinskas and Going Wi-Fi by Janice Reynolds.
There were also a couple technology developments of note:
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In a recent survey of more than 450 senior decision makers and influencers across North America, IDC found that improving operational efficiency and productivity are key factors driving corporate investments in wireless and mobile solutions. Nearly three quarters of the survey respondents indicated that an expected improvement within a specific internal business process, such as manufacturing or inventory control, was the main factor in their investment decision.
Although decision makers are clearly aware of the
transformational benefits of mobile and wireless solutions, most are
challenged by the technology as well as identifying the business objectives to
be achieved through mobility. Meanwhile, mobile network operators are faced with
their own challenge: delivering higher-value services at ever-lower prices over
increasingly complex networks. As a result, both are turning to third
parties — mobile and wireless professional services firms — to provide an
array of services, including network installation and maintenance, continuous
integration of newer systems, and effectively managing the services and content
Yet, despite their expertise and compelling cost advantages, these wireless and mobile professional services firms face a serious market challenge, claims IDC: Nearly half the survey respondents currently considering implementing a mobile or wireless solution are either unlikely to or definitively would not use an outside professional services firm. "To succeed in this market and attract new opportunities, vendors need to develop both a competitively superior value proposition as well as an exceptional value delivery engine," says Richard Dean, director of DC's Wireless Infrastructure and Application Services research program.
As an IT professional, you know that wireless technologies
such as 802.11 promise to provide significant benefits to your organization.
Before you go full steam ahead, you need answers to your critical concerns about
wireless LANs. Questions concerning security, compatibility and best practices,
to name just a few. The IT Wireless Insider email newsletter is now here to help
you figure it all out.
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