iTECH: ‘TCP/IP’ for In-Cab High-Speed Wireless

By Thomas M. Strah, Editor, TT Magazines

This story appears in the August/September 2007 issue of iTECH, published in the Aug. 20 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

The most common way of delivering data from truck telematics involves the system vendor storing, and probably massaging, the information, which the customer accesses through a secure Web site.

But the World Wide Web, strictly speaking, is not synonymous with the Internet — is only one of many passengers on the ship. The Internet itself can be described as a vast ark of networks, speaking many different computer languages.

A protocol, or set of standards, is needed so two computing devices can connect and transfer data via a network. Perhaps the most flexible protocol, and the one that makes the Internet work so well, is called TCP/IP — a merger of Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol — which, like the Internet, was developed by the Department of Defense.

While tapping into a Web site requires a connection between a client computer and a server, there are other ways to communicate over a network.

New trucking applications are being developed to function with high-speed wireless in the truck cab — onboard scanning is one of them — and a protocol that facilitates cellular communication. TCP/IP and the cellular data-transfer platform known as EDGE — enhanced data rates — make a great couple, in the opinion of Marc Mitchell, who heads transportation practices at Enterprise Information Solutions, Downers Grove, Ill.

“A lot of what we do runs on top of cellphones,” Mitchell said. Along with TCP/IP, “the advent of EDGE, 3G [third-generation cell] networks and Wi-Fi is bringing the Internet to the truck cab.”

Among its clients, EIS counts several less-than-truckload fleets “for which we are both systems integrator and back-end software provider,” Mitchell said.

He also said EIS developed the systems for Roberts Express (later acquired by FedEx), the second fleet to deploy Qualcomm units to all of its trucks — and that’s going back many years.

“At one point, we had a very proprietary communications line between Akron [Roberts’ Ohio headquarters] and San Diego [home of Qualcomm]. We later replaced that connection with TCP/IP via the Internet.”

As such, EIS was something of a guinea pig for new ways of using TCP/IP. Today, many software applications provide connection without a client-server relation.

“Running Web browsers in the cab is fine, but it’s the old way of thinking,” Mitchell said. “The real key is getting a high-speed wireless connection in there.” That’s what TCP/IP is all about, and with it, “the sky’s the limit.”

An important part of the integration equation that trucking companies without their own information technology staffs rarely have reason to consider is the “middle tier” players. These are the people who filter the fire-hose stream of data constantly flowing from the truck into consumable chunks.

To some extent that task lies with the engine and truck manufacturers and J-bus standards, but there are also firms that make line monitors that plug into the J-bus and pull out usable bits of information for those who write the applications fleet managers will view.

“I don’t want to get into the real-time nature of protocols and how fast the data can come. The middle-tier players do that,” Mitchell said.

Companies like B&B Electronics work with each of the engine manufacturers, and, as integrators, are responsible for knowing all the nuances of the data “so that an IT guy at a trucking company doesn’t have to know all the ins and outs of a Mack or International or Cummins engine,” he said.


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