Cellular Service Provider Manages Its Reps Via NFC

By Claire Swedberg

Lycamobile is using Crystal Ball's RFID-based solution to monitor its salespeople around the world as they make calls to resellers of international calling cards.

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Lycamobile, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) with more than 30 million customers across 16 countries, is growing, with its entry to the U.S. market this year. As it expands, the company is sending its sales staff to reseller locations in North America and throughout the world to sell international calling cards to vendors. To manage those workers and their sales visits, the company uses a RFID-based solution from Crystal Ball that helps identify when an individual arrives and leaves a customer site.

In 2009, Crystal Ball developed Mobile Track, which monitors workers’ whereabouts via the GPS module built into their cell phones, and this year, it added a version with Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID functionality. While GPS tracks the location of the phone, NFC data identifies the time when a worker arrives at a specific location and again when he leaves. Lycamobile tested the Mobile Track with NFC in the winter 2012, with U.K. staff, and has now begun a permanent roll out throughout Europe, with plans to extend the technology to all its worldwide sites.

Crystal Ball’s Raj Singh

Crystal Ball’s managing director, Raj Singh, says his company designed the solution with two needs in mind—to improve the safety of personnel when in the field or alone, and to track the location of people who accomplish their work away from an office.

Lycamobile wants a way to track the activities of its workers around the world as they make sales calls throughout their days. To accomplish this, the company provides each member of its sales team with a Samsung Mini 2 Android-based mobile phone, which comes with GPS location functionality as well as an NFC reader. The phone’s unique identifier is linked to the user in Crystal Ball’s software.

When an employee begins her workday, she signs on with her phone, using the Crystal Ball app, and begins traveling to one of her assigned clients. The GPS data provided by the phone enables the software to track her location and even how fast she is traveling. When she arrives at a client’s site, she then uses the phone’s NFC function by tapping a passive 13.56 MHz RFID tag that she had previously installed in a discrete location at that site, for example on a wall or in a doorway.

Each tag, made for Crystal Ball by a third-party manufacturer, has a built-in NXP Semiconductors RFID chip encoded with a unique ID. The phone captures the tag’s ID, sends it via GPRS to the Crystal Ball server where it can then be stored with the time and the ID of the user. When he leaves the site he taps the tag again, and the software determines the individual has now left the site. The software records not only when, and how frequently, the representative visits each customer, but for how long. In that way, management knows if a client has not been visited and is due for a sales representative to pay a call. Management also knows whether the individual is doing the work expected, and when a delay may have occurred.

A Lycamobile salesperson uses a Samsung Mini 2 smartphone to log in via an NFC RFID tag installed at a client’s site.

Crystal Ball has been offering the NFC version of Mobile Track since early July. It also offers a Lone Worker app to help U.K. companies to comply with the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which require an organization to provide proof, following an event, that it followed proper procedures designed to ensure that a work vehicle had been safe and had been operated safely. Crystal Ball’s founders launched their company at the same time that this new legislation was passed to provide vehicle-tracking as well as asset-management solutions for companies that send their workers to remote locations as part of their jobs.

The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) reports that more than 6 million people in the United Kingdom work either in isolation or without direct supervision, often in places or circumstances that put them at potential risk.