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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Networking cars for safety through SMS

Features of the week:

The recent introduction of C-Track system based on Short Messaging Service (SMS) system is a product to behold by any telecom subscriber especially vehicle owners, reports REMMY NWEKE.

Telecommunications subscriber, Mazi Ofor Idoga, is a Lagos-based businessman. He was lucky to have bought a car recently and because he cherished his car, a Toyota brand, he was excited to note that his network of choice, MTN Nigeria has just entered into a partnership with ADATA C-Track; consummated in Lagos few weeks ago and celebrated by the nation’s media as innovative option for vehicle tracking system.

Top on the innovation is that with his mobile phone on MTN network, Mr. Idoga’s car could be tracked via a Short Messaging Service (SMS) via the control room of ADATA C-Track, a Nigerian firm, which found favour in the eyes of South Africa-based Digicore International, the proprietors of C-Track Vehicle System in over 30 countries globally, even as the car could promptly be stopped if declared missing.

So, Mr. Idoga took the decision to be part of the evolution by leveraging on the mobile phone based security system, which offers him apart from mere tracking in terms of theft by enabling him to know the whereabout of his vehicle either driven by him or some else, as long it is within the Nigerian air space.

Yes, the air space as far as Nigeria is concerned and beyond, because the service is motivated by the Global Positioning System (GPS), defined as a worldwide radio-navigation system that was developed by the United States Department of Defense (US-DoD).

In addition to military purposes it is widely used in marine, terrestrial navigation and location based services, according to Nitronex educational glossary. Additionally, as said by experts at GISlounge, GPS is a technology that uses the locations satellites to determine locations on earth and is an essential part of Global Information System (GIS).

This came on the heels of the just concluded three-day workshop and exhibition on ‘Fully networked car’ by the global telecommunications regulator, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Palexpo, during the 2007 Geneva Motorshow.

The workshop geared towards creating awareness for modern cars to be Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) compliant was borne out of convergence.

For the chief public information at ITU, Mr. Sanjay Acharya, there is need for ‘fully networked car’ which is the goal of most manufacturers seeking to offer improved safety and a better experience for the driver, stressing that all major car manufacturers are looking to incorporate some level of ICT functionality into their vehicles.

He quoted recent industry analysis, which says that the market for vehicular communications is estimated in billions of U.S. Dollars by 2010 and 2012 timeframe. So, there is need for synergy among car manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers (OEM), telecommunication systems manufacturers, network operators, service providers, systems integrators, member states, as well as other Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs).

The exhibition, which held between March 7 and 10 reviewed the implications of the latest developments in the fast-moving market for ICT in motor vehicles and featured speakers drawn across ICT and automobile industry, including Bosch, BMW, Cisco, Ford, France Telecom, Freescale Semiconductor, Head Acoustics, Hitachi, Intel, Motorola, Nissan, On-Star, Orange, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Q-Free, T-Systems, Telecom Italia, Telecordia, Toyota, Vodafone and Ygomi among others.

The Geneva Motor show paved the way for communications from and to the car, location-based services and multimedia entertainment to be experimented upon.

In apparent realisation of aforesaid features coupled with impression created by ADATA C-Track vehicle system proposal, leading Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and Third Generation (3G) operator, MTN Nigeria, could not resist but to partner with the firm.

Announcing this development at the official launch and demonstration of C-track secure systems in Lagos, the chief marketing and customer relations officer, MTN Nigeria, Mr. Bola Akingbade said the launch was in the bid to continually move Nigerians ahead in their world that MTN Nigeria chose the path of partnership with ADATA C-Track Limited on this “very first truly-mobile vehicle tracking and stolen vehicle recovery service to the Nigerian market.”

He described the product as a unique one that promises to help subscribers on MTN network to keep track of the location of their vehicles from the comfort of their homes or offices, while they are on the move through their mobile phones.

“The uniqueness of this product is that, as an individual, you can monitor your vehicle from your cell phone or from the web,” he said, stressing that the technology would afford MTN subscribers the opportunity to safeguard their precious passions against deliberate misuse, theft or other forms of loss, even as the launch is certainly another first from the stable of MTN, ” Mr. Akingbade said.

Giving an overview of C-track secure system, the chief executive, ADATA C-Track, Mr. Jeyejeye Okorodudu, said that by mere sending of SMS to a given vehicle’s on-board Subscriber Identification Module (SIM), subscribers could ensure they are immediately alerted in the event of their vehicle being moved, especially by unauthorised persons, notwithstanding whether the ignition is on or off.

“They can also keep tabs on the location of their vehicles on the go as they can send and receive the crucial information on their cell phones,” Mr. Okorodudu said, even as ADATA is collaborating with Digicore of South Africa.

He explained that the GPS-based products employ technology for location information: longitude and latitude, date and time would be universal and speed tracking with C-track range employing an eight-channel GPS receiver system that gives an average accuracy of four (4) meters.

On the GSM aspect, Mr. Okorodudu said that it is deployed to track and communicate the location data back through the network using the SMS subsystem to a Personal Computer (PC) installed with the vector maps, fleet management software, and communication kit for the fleet operator’s tracking requirements, control and management.

According to him, C-Track system also offers speed monitoring virtually tracking up to 100 knots via satellite by providing effective and reliable speed monitoring even when ignition is off.
“This proves very useful for tracking in cases of theft and illegal transport by air. Additionally however, the system provides an input for tracking vehicle speed via onboard speedometer,” he said.

In the area management cum awareness, he said that the C-track server founded on base station software allows the operator to setup predefined no-go and preferred areas as well as waypoints.

He said, that between 100 and 200 areas could be created and then transmitted to the C-track secure unit, which would report any violation of the areas immediately to the server at the base station when they occur.

Route monitoring, he further explained could be done by tagging designated routes as ‘go areas,’ ‘no-go areas’ and ‘routes’ which could be created, saved and programmed for vehicles.

He noted that installation of all C-Track features in-vehicle units covers GPS components, internal GSM modem, internal backup battery, movement sensor, activated SIM card, tampering alarm on GPS unlock and battery, emphasising that the set up takes up to three hours so also is the uninstallation.

“This single box assembly and compact size design allows installations to be covert and non-intrusive. Wiring harness and antennas; both GPS and GSM also leave virtually no visible footprint after installation, providing a truly secure and safe but yet powerful vehicle and asset tracking implementation,” he said.

Additionally, he said, that the system supports the recording of full per second incident information for the last one minute before an accident, thus a very helpful feature for liabilities placement in such events.

Just as the unit has a failure rate of less than one per cent and is warranted by manufacturer for one year against factory defects and system failure with local support provided by ADATA C-Track local stock.

Also speaking, the International Manager, Digicore, Mr. Jose Marsal said they found love with ADATA to bring this service to the Nigerian people, noting though that nothing is 100 per cent prove and no company in the world can guarantee 100 per cent on recovery.

According to him, there are kinds of reports offered on C-track secure system, including trips, summary, activity and vehicle list which could also be printed or sent via an electronic mails, even as there are business and private options, “Which helps users to manage their asset” whilst a subscriber could have as many panic buttons as possible.

“It is even better that a car driver and car owners have individually panic buttons,” he pointed out and listed some of the benefits to consist of real time location access to one’s vehicles from your cell phone through and SMS or Internet connection, receiving meaningful location information down to the street names.

Mr. Marsal said that C-Track secure system was designed to add value to the private vehicle owner and to the Small to medium Enterprise (SME) owner who runs a fleet of vehicles by allowing cell phone to vehicle location and status as well as offering the convenience of internet access to vehicles location and movement information, all at an eminently affordable price.

He listed the benefits to include adding value to having proactive warning, possible unauthorized movement, battery tamper, area alarm and the ability to immobilize the vehicle, usage information, mileage, speed recording, enhanced personal and vehicle security.

He pointed out that the nationwide coverage of MTN offers vehicle owners’ accessible via a cell phone or the Internet based on 24-by-7 days per week security.

“One SMS is all it takes to be notified of your car’s whereabouts for active tracking,” he said, noting that moving time report with speed recording as well as real time location on your cell phone, subscribers could access the location, status, speed and time at each ignition of and ignition on of your vehicle.

Apart from this it could be a measure for saving fuel and also increasing the vehicle life span, even as the internet option enables tracking and measuring of activity of the vehicle and its user, thereby verifying the whereabouts, hence reducing maintenance costs, decreasing wear and tear while maximizing profit.

“Active intelligent unit through secure unit sensor, enables the unit fitted into your car to do self-tests daily to ensure that it is working. If it’s not, a call is logged and the client is notified immediately,” he said.

Mr. Marsal explained that the secure unit senses and proactively reports a tampering of battery in which case a back up battery takes over. “It also reports ignition tampering in which case it’s immobilized if it’s confirmed to be a theft case,” he said.

On keeping track of vehicles over the Internet maps, he said that with an Internet connection to a PC, users could see their vehicles and know its activities on a detailed map.

“You can also print out detailed information as back up evidence for future review and this helps for a better as well as a more transparent and productive management system,” just as there is second by second report availability of what could have led to an accident in such events which helps to reveal the faults of drivers.

He emphasised that in event of hijacking or theft “your vehicle is immobilized safely from the ADATA C-Track Emergency Response Centre and your car is recovered.”

Mr. Marsal said that C-track secure gets its position from the GPS satellites, usually accurate upto four metres and as a back-up traceable via the GSM networks.

The device, which costs about N70,000 as a one-off payment has a monthly service charge of N2,500, while the support centre is open 24/7 and 365 days annually.

Reacting to this innovation, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and the Nigerian Insurance Association (NIA) commended the partnership for introducing the ADATA C-track secure into the country.

The commission spoke through the Assistant Corps Marshal, Lagos Zonal Command, Mr A. Abu, who said that the product would give vehicle owners peace of mind and operational control of their vehicles in addition to enhancing the safety of lives and property in the country.

He also said that by introducing the vehicle tracking service, ADATA C-track and MTN are ensuring that help gets to needy road users more promptly.

“I am excited with the presentation. We’re concerned when our wards and families travel which prompts much money in making calls. I recommend it to all fleet and car owners. We want to identify with the project and recommend that to every road user in the country,” Abu said.

For the Director-General NIA, Mr. Ezekiel Chiejina, that the service is one that could help secure vehicles and reduce the risks borne by insurance companies, noting that in the near future, subscription to the service may reduce the premium paid by insurance subscribers in the country among other benefits that could emerge as the system evolves.

Put succinctly, C-Track secure is the entry-level version of the C-Track range of GPS/GSM telematics products specifically designed for the SME, light vehicle fleet and stolen vehicle recovery market sector.

And with the partnership it avails Nigerians and telecom consumers an opportunity of keeping tab on their automobiles via mobile phones, even as Mr. Okorodudu hinted that plans are underway to include subscribers on other networks in the country in the near feature.

The likes of Idoga in other networks would no doubt cherish the Value Added Service (VAS), any time and anywhere as long as there is coverage, and by getting involved.


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