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technology developed for use on cellular phone frequencies), but it also transmits data via a private Ericsson EDACS system, and is even using satellite on a somewhat experimental basis.
A consideration in purchasing the computers, then, is how flexible they are in operating on various networks. Gerber says that Itronix sells computers and software that even allow the computer to roam across various networks, providing optimal coverage. The number of available platforms is only growing. GSM (global system for mobile communications, another cellular system) is a reality. And then there is the newer GPRS (general packet radio service), which runs at speeds of 115 kilobits per second compared to GSM's 9.6 kilobits per second.
Here in the United States, such systems lag far behind Europe, where GSM is already the standard and GPRS is the next frontier. "In the United States, the fragmentation of wireless standards has inhibited some customers from adopting just because they don't know whether a solution that they buy for Point A will work in Point B because we're so split up," says practice director Warren Wilson of Summit Strategies. That's different in Europe, he says, where standards are uniform.
Still, concerns abound about the possibility of a device becoming obsolete because of communications platform advances. But according to Gerber, Itronix devices can be upgraded-for GPRS capability, for instance.
Now and Beyond
What else is down the road for mobile field service applications? Global positioning systems, which allow a dispatcher to locate workers, could be ideal for emergency situations when a nearby crew is needed quickly. While the technology is being deployed in other industries, Gerber says that utilities are just beginning to consider such capabilities.
For now, though, the payoff is immediate. Kasznay says that the computers pay for themselves, and not only in efficiency. "In our mapping application, just in things like paper, it's amazing how much we've saved," he says. "And that's just the physical benefits, not even the soft benefits. The environmental application has redefined the business process of how [the environmental tracking] is handled. The same with the dispatching street lighting application and the substation inspection.
"The key to all this stuff is that the business process changes. You can't just plug in a box and expect it to save a lot of money without changing the business process to take advantage of the technology."
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