Some would say that tracking cars using mobile phone and satellite technology is a convenient service, while others would call it an Orwellian nightmare. But either way, it is now a reality and more people in Russia are starting to see the advantages it offers.
In reality, it has been possible for many years in Russia to determine a vehicles exact location. This was done using military satellites that could send out signals to identify an objects precise location. All ballistic missiles and submarines use this technology today. But adapting these services to civilian needs requires a friendly interface, and this only became possible with the spread of mobile telecommunications.
There are two main uses for vehicle positioning systems. The first is economic the systems can be used for more efficient transport dispatching services. The second is security GSM/GPS-based systems can be used as effective car theft protection systems.
According to Autolocator specialists, search and security systems account for more than half of all systems installed. But there has been increasing interest recently in transport management systems. Companies are introducing more effective cost management, and managing transport fleets through automated systems. As well as resolving logistical issues, these systems make it easier to supervise drivers and encourage better discipline.
Among the most developed systems on the market are WebLocator and AutoConnex. Both systems involve installing a module with a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver in the vehicle. This installation identifies the cars speed and location. The GPS is used for navigation. The dispatcher or car owner receives information through SMS messages or the Internet.
"Our clients are large and medium-sized companies that have their own transport fleets (five cars or more) and want to use them effectively," said Nikita Yemets, marketing director at Race Communications.
In Moscow, WebLocator equipment and installation costs from $700-1700, and there is a monthly user fee of $20-25. AutoConnex costs $1400-1500 to purchase and install and has a monthly user fee of around $30. Users say, however, that this investment is worth it.
"We can follow in real time exactly where a vehicle is and automatically see this data on a map (as a moving point on a computer street map, for example), while also being in contact with the vehicle being tracked," said Pyotr Sergeyev, director of SpetsTrans, a company specialized in transporting valuable cargoes. "Depending on how busy our teams are, we work out the most efficient route for them through the city."
According to Autolocator specialists, systems that locate vehicles positions are currently used to prevent car theft and help return stolen cars, and also to manage vehicle fleets. In many cases, the systems are used for both of these purposes at once.
"The car theft prevention segment usually covers cars costing $30,000 or more," they say, "insurance companies prices and policies also play their part here. These security and search systems have proved themselves effective against theft, and so almost all insurers offer sizeable discounts to car owners who install these systems. If you own an expensive car, the savings you can make on insurance premiums outweigh the cost of installing and operating the search and security system. Of course, knowing that with this system you will receive help quickly in an unpleasant situation is also an incentive. The customers of companies that provide these systems and services include both private individuals and companies that own cars in this price category."
The criteria for choosing a vehicle location system are commercial how effective the system is likely to be at optimizing the transport process and increasing security.
"Our experience with these systems in our company is that they have enabled us to increase transport efficiency by 30-35 percent," said Sergei Yasporyev, head of the transport department at a company that transports cash. "We not only know where exactly our vehicles are at any moment, we can also adjust their routes depending on where traffic jams appear in the city."
The costs involved include the money needed to buy the equipment itself (computers, data transmitters, communications equipment) as well as for construction and operation of the communications network and dispatcher office. Overall, it is not a cheap undertaking.
Computerized transport management systems are only starting to develop in Russia and the highest demand so far is for car theft prevention systems. These mobile positioning-based systems are useful for everyone except car thieves car owners get their vehicles back, insurers do not have to make payouts and the police improve their crime solving statistics.
Satellite car security systems are becoming more popular. Insurers encourage drivers to invest in them the likelihood a driver will get back a car equipped with such a system in the event of theft is 98 percent, compared to 42 percent for cars equipped with radio location systems. Insurers give considerable discounts to car owners who install these systems, including up to 70 percent on car theft insurance. These savings mean the system pays for itself after 1-2 years. Most companies supplying the systems offer Internet location services that allow the owner to track their vehicle with precision to just a few meters. Satellite systems also protect not just the cars, but their drivers too a remote-controlled alarm button helps protect the personal safety of drivers outside the car. Owners of new or near new foreign-made cars costing around $30,000 are the main customers for these location systems. The market for these cars in Moscow is estimated at approximately 120,000. Around one in five such cars was insured last year and drivers are becoming increasingly aware of the need for insurance and better security systems.
"More and more expensive foreign-made car owners are willing to pay the money to have satellite security systems installed," said Tatyana Vanichkina, brand manager at Geo System Navigation. "A lot of them are attracted by the fact that the installation is hidden from sight, you cannot tell it is there and the car looks completely unchanged."
A signal from the companys dispatch center can activate light and sound alarms in the car and block the engine. Most modern location systems are protected against losing contact. Some systems, Starcom, for example, use SIM cards with automatic roaming, and this makes the system independent of the GSM communications provider and extends the zone of use to wherever any of the GSM networks are working.
The top five players on the satellite security systems market are Cesar Satellite, Autolocator, Starcom, SkyLock and LoJack. In all, there are 10-12 companies on the market. Purchase and installation costs range from $1,000-3,000 plus a monthly user fee from $24 and communications expenses.
Using the system
There are several ways of receiving information on a cars location. The GPS satellite system gives the most precise information, locating objects within a few meters. Russian legislation states that precision should be within 30 meters, but there are certain nuances in the way the systems work. It is possible, for example, to find out where a vehicle is (on exactly which street, for example) but without being told its exact position.
According to Autolocator specialists, The most widely used systems in Russia for locating vehicles are based on GPS receivers and use GSM networks for transmitting information. The best solution for security is a combined system that includes both a radio search module and a GPS/GSM module.
The second way of locating vehicles is through a triangular system that calculates the vehicles position using signals from the data transmitter that are picked up by several stations at the same time. The systems precision depends on the number of base stations. In urban environments, it makes it possible to determine which of two neighboring streets a car is following. Mistakes are possible in areas such as Moscows crooked side streets or St. Petersburgs labyrinthine courtyards, but overall, the system works effectively.
The third method uses the standard system used to locate GSM mobile network users. This system is nowhere near as precise (precision within 100 meters in city areas and hundreds of meters outside the city), but its installation and operation costs are minimal.
Even the most precise satellite location system is of no use if the vehicles positioning data is not transmitted to a dispatcher, search system or law enforcement agency. Positioning data can be sent to a dispatch center via radio channels (although now a somewhat outdated solution), through GSM data transfer or service (SMS) channels and through satellite systems such as Inmarsat. The advantage of GSM and satellite systems for data transmission is that they make it possible to search for a car in another region or country (GSM roaming). There have been cases when stolen cars have had their license plates changed and been painted a different color and have been tracked down in a different country several weeks later. The GPS receiver identifies the location upon the cars arrival in a foreign port, for example, and then the GSM module connects to the local mobile communications network and transmits the information to the dispatcher or cars owner.
Modern systems usually give access to visual information on the vehicles location and other data such as its speed. Many systems allow users to collect information over a period of time and build up a detailed statistical picture of the vehicles route, stopping places, average speed and so forth. Some car rental companies abroad have begun using these systems, much to the chagrin of drivers, who upon returning the vehicle find themselves having to pay fines for speeding.