August 16, 2004
By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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Small Business Turns to GPS to Improve Service, Sales

You don't need to be a large company to take advantage of wireless technology. Ball Park Pedicabs, a bicycle-cab service that serves San Diego as well as events throughout the country, is using Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking technology to try to improve its business. Ball Park is a small company, with a handful of staff who manage 75 contract riders in San Diego and a couple dozen or so at special events like the Super Bowl. Like bicycle messengers and similar local-delivery businesses, Ball Park has no technology staff.

Ball Park has several uses for the GPS technology:

  • Provide dispatch services to pedicab drivers, which president Ira Fefferman hopes will result in more rides per cab and thus more revenues to both the driver and to Ball Park. He also hopes it will let him work with hotels and bars so they can call his dispatch on behalf of their customers; currently, pedicab drivers hang around such establishments hoping for customers, and most such establishments don't like having the pedicabs doing that.
  • Provide efficient routing information to drivers, both to increase the number of trips and reduce unnecessary exertion by drivers.
  • Track pedicab location for emergencies and to help lost drivers get back on track.
  • Track pedicab location to provide advertisers maps of where the pedicabs have been during the ad campaign, to demonstrate what kind of audience likely saw the ads (Ball Park recently began selling billboard ad space on its pedicabs).

Pedicab drivers use a Nextel cell phone that has a GPS locator as well as Nextel's push-to-talk walkie-talkie-like service that works across the country. Ball Park started using local walkie-talkie service, but found that its range was very limited and easily thwarted by tall buildings. It also required coordinators to be on the ground in each location to handle dispatch and driver inquiries. With the national service, Ball Park has been able to centralize the dispatch in one location while serving drivers in locations throughout the country. Ball Park uses Televigation's TeleNavtrack software to track the pedicabs through online maps, as well as to generate the historic route information shown to advertisers. The Nextel and Televigation services cost about $50 per month per pedicab, and Ball Park can increase or decrease the number of pedicabs covered as needed. Not all pedicabs get the service some riders prefer to manage their business directly rather than use Ball Park's dispatch service, for example. So far, Fefferman is not charging for use of the service, though he may do that once it's clear what the payoff is.

The payoff right now is uncertain. Fefferman has no data to show what the return on investment is for the $50 per pedicab. For him, it's an act of faith that the ability to provide dispatch services using real-time location information, to provide advertisers actual route logs of where there ads were shown and when they were shown, and to be able to service locations throughout the country from one location will all let him become a national provider. While he has no feedback from advertisers, for example, Fefferman says that no advertiser would even consider placing billboards on pedicabs until he could show them where the ads were seen. Of course, he concedes, he also brought in a professional advertising firm at the same time he introduced the tracking service, so it's unclear how key the tracking capability has been in gaining ad sales. Likewise, he yet can't show that offering dispatch service will make hotels and bars more amenable to promoting his pedicab service, rather than unhappily tolerating it as has been the case. "It's really a marketing tool," he says, and that marketing effort is only a few months old. Still, Fefferman expects that having such location services coupled with wireless dispatch and communication will give his business the edge it needs to break out of the cottage-industry mold that so many of his competitors stay mired in.

UPDATE: UPS Expands Its Wireless Efforts to Europe

UPS is expanding its deployment of new wireless technologies to Europe. Begun a year ago in the U.S. (see our previous story ), the effort involves Bluetooth and Wi-Fi deployments in package facilities and delivery vehicles. The first part of the deployment will occur in UPS sorting centers and hubs. It involves pager-sized Bluetooth scanners, worn on the middle finger, that send package tracking data to small Wi-Fi terminals worn on the waist by package sorters. The Wi-Fi devices then send the tracking data to UPS's computer network, where it can be accessed by customers.

When the enterprise-wide deployment is completed in 2007, UPS will have streamlined and standardized more than 55,000 ring scanners in 118 countries, integrated a number of UPS scanning applications into one, improved information flow, and decreased the cost of ownership. By eliminating the cables that connect the ring scanners to the wearable terminals, UPS expects a 30% reduction in equipment and repair costs, as well as a 35% reduction in downtime and a 35% reduction in the amount of spare equipment needed.

As part of the global deployment, UPS will install as many as 12,000 Wi-Fi access points in more than 2,000 facilities. The resulting Wi-Fi network is expected to be one of the largest in the world. The deployment of the wireless scanning systems will be further boosted by the rollout of the newest hand-held computer to UPS's delivery drivers. The Delivery Information Acquisition Device (DIAD) IV, currently in field trials in the United States, is the first handheld computer to include wireless connectivity options for personal (Bluetooth), local (Wi-Fi), and wide-area networks (GPRS or CDMA). The terminals will also have Global Positioning System (GPS) capability to give drivers more detailed directions to customer pick-up or delivery points.

UPS began pilot testing the Bluetooth ring scanner and Wi-Fi terminal application in Europe in June in Munich, Germany, and is launching another pilot test in Hamburg, Germany, this month. UPS anticipates deploying the application at 73 sites in Europe by 2006 and also will start deploying the DIAD IV in Germany next year. The company anticipates having 10,000 DIAD IVs deployed in Europe in 2005 and more than 70,000 worldwide by 2008.

Got deployment experience and lessons to share? Let us know at

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