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TransCore Buys Vistar

A provider of transportation-related RFID technology has acquired a satellite-communications firm to enable new global asset tracking and security monitoring services.
By Jonathan Collins
Mar 25, 2004TransCore, a long-time provider of RFID and transportation technology and services, has acquired satellite-communications firm Ottawa-based Telecommunications. The deal echoes other companies’ earlier partnerships to link RFID systems with satellite networks for global asset tracking and security monitoring. Last year, RFID specialists WhereNet and Savi Technology both announced their own separate partnerships with satellite operators Skybitz and Qualcomm, respectively (see Vendors to Offer Global Tracking and Savi, Qualcomm Join Forces).
John Worthington

According to the TransCore—which had already partnered with Vistar on specific deployments over the past two years—the acquisition will give TransCore a key advantage over its rivals. “We have learned that you have to have control of the technology,” says John Worthington, president and chief executive officer of TransCore, which is based in Hummelstown, Pa. By owning Vistar, TransCore says, it will be able to develop new RFID/satellite products and respond far more quickly to customer requirements than any partnership could enable.

Vistar’s GlobalWave satellite network system uses six terrestrial control stations to provide service coverage to five continents. These on-ground locations communicate with geosynchronous satellites operated by a number of companies, including Mobile Satellite Ventures, which provides the satellite link for North America. Vistar’s network provides communications capability to send short text messages, polling position and status of terminals, event and alarm messages, and prescheduled reporting, all of which are configurable over the air. Vistar’s core services are used to enable asset management, tracking and messaging applications in many vertical markets, including marine, rail, trucking and trailer management, oil and gas, rental car management and light aircraft. Currently Vistar has more than 20,000 customers worldwide, including Volvo Penta of the Americas, which uses the network to provide two-way connectivity to boat operators, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

TransCore says the combination of RFID and GPS systems will enable it to offer end-to-end visibility of shipments and vehicles in commercial and government, as well as provide a single vendor secure chain-of-custody solution to the U.S. homeland security market. It has already set about adding its new GPS tracking capabilities to its ongoing trade lane security tracking and electronic seals deployment on shipments between Germany and Japan that are part of the U.S. government sponsored Operation Safe Commerce (OSC) initiative.

No financial details of the deal were announced, but TransCore maintains that it will invest significantly in developing the assets and products acquired in the deal. The first new products linking its active RFID offerings with the Vistar satellite communications network are expected to come to market by the second quarter next year. These technologies can be linked in a diverse number of ways, according to the company. In the Operational Safe Commerce program the new GPS capabilities will enable containers to be tracked as they traverse international and domestic routes as well as at ports. RFID will enable local and short-range communications while the MT2000 will enable long-range transmissions.

TransCore says it will also use the acquisition to offer additional services its nearly 28,000 trucking customers. These new services include two-way communications, so that trucking companies can monitor their equipment on the road; automated fuel tax reporting, which will use GPS and satellite link to track a truck’s route and report information to regional tax authorities; and tolling, which will track GPS-equipped vehicles’ use of toll roads and bill accordingly.

In order to track the transportation of goods and vehicles, Vistar’s customers use the company’s GlobalWave MT2000 satellite data communication terminals. The 6- by 6- by 2-inch units are powered by a single battery that lasts up to four years. The terminals can be mounted to containers and vehicles or can be built in at the factory. In addition to providing two-way data transmission via geo-stationary satellites, the MT2000 has a built-in GPS receiver to precise tracking and temperature and voltage sensors. The MT2000 supports generic input/outputs, with two analog inputs available and four digital I/Os available. Other devices that can be integrated with the MT2000 include marine bilge switches, door switches, vibration sensors, shock and pressure transducers, load transducers and connect/disconnect switches.

Currently, the Vistar system supports single data transmissions up to 38 bytes to the MT2000 and 11 bytes from the MT2000, but the company plans to expand the message delivery capability to enable fast delivery of messages of up to 10K. According to TransCore, the MT2000’s simplicity and low-power consumption combined with the company’s planned expansion of bandwidth between its MT2000 terminals and satellite network will give its integrated offerings a key advantage over Qualcomm’s satellite tracking technology.

“When shipments leave the warehouse, retailers want to know where it is and that it is secure and in the consumer supply chain; it is not the tractor truck that needs to be tracked but the trailer. The trailer is the asset, and tracking that is what Vistar is good at,” says Jim Evans, a member of TransCore board of directors.

According to Evans, further out using the technology, shipping containers and trailers can become EPC components with their own EPC number that links into the Physical Markup Language (PML) and Object Name Service (ONS) servers. “That way shipments from trusted suppliers can be received as an entire container load without the need for individual reads at the carton or item level,” says Evans.

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