Reaching the workers Road call: Geotek Communications adapts Israeli military technology to help companies stay in contact with their drivers.

March 14, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Dispatch radio is telecommunications at its least glamorous.

It's Danny DeVito in "Taxi" barking orders to cabdrivers over a crackly two-way radio. It's a plumbing company calling one of its trucks when your pipes burst. It's "10-4" when drivers can "copy" through the static and "you're breaking up" when they can't.

Communicating with taxis, trucks and other commercial vehicles might not have the panache of the Internet, but top executives of Geotek Communications Inc. see it as a business with enormous opportunities. So yesterday they came to Baltimore to lay claim to it.

Geotek, based in Montvale, N.J., appeared at the Information Technology Expo and Conference at the Convention Center to kick off its marketing drive for the digital system it bills as "the next generation of mobile business communications."

Last week, the Baltimore-Washington area became the second market where Geotek has introduced its service, which is based on technology developed by the Israeli military. The company, which began its rollout in Philadelphia in January, says it plans to have 35 U.S. markets in operation by the end of 1997.

George Calhoun, president of Geotek's Wireless Division, said the market his company is trying to penetrate has up to 25 million users nationwide most of them working with "antiquated" equipment.

"It's been characterized by very backward technology two-way radio, walkie-talkie technology," Mr. Calhoun said.

Geotek's system will combine cellular telephone service with dispatch radio, vehicle location services and a variety of data communications services in an integrated package with a single bill. The voice services are in operation now, and data services will be available by midyear, Mr. Calhoun said.

Michael Barnes, a Geotek customer account manager, demonstrated a prototype version of some of those advanced data services yesterday. Using a software program developed by Geotek, he showed how a dispatcher could send messages from his computer screen to a wallet-sized display screen that could be mounted on a dashboard.

The pro- gram would keep a record of when each message was received, when it was read and when answered. It would let the dispatcher who sends a query attach a list of multiple-choice answers so a driver could answer by pushing a button.

The system will also include a vehicle location system based on geopositional satellite (GPS) technology, Mr. Barnes said. He demonstrated how the system could be used to locate trucks in a company's fleet within about 100 feet on an on-screen map.

The technology at the heart of Geotek's network is called Frequency Hopping Multiple Access (FHMA), developed about 15 years ago and commercialized by Rafael, the research and development arm of the Israeli military. FHMA is a "spread-spectrum" technology, not confined to a single channel where it might run into interference.

"It was designed for operating in a battlefield environment, when you're being jammed by the enemy," Mr. Calhoun said. He added that, unlike analog two-way radio, digital calls over its phone and radio system cannot be easily intercepted.

Geotek executives said they are focusing their marketing efforts on small and midsized businesses that operate fleets of vehicles within metropolitan markets. The company estimates that there are about 2 million such businesses in the markets where it holds licenses.

James Friedland, telecommunications and media analyst for Arnhold & S. Bleichroeder Inc. in New York, said of Geotek, "The potential here is great, the business plan is great and they have great marketing ability."

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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