The successful launch of eight new satellites late last year will greatly expand two-way wireless data communications availability over the ORBCOMM LEO (low Earth orbit) satellite network. With two satellites already providing commercial service, the eight additional satellites will increase communications availability from an average of 1.5 to 12 hours a day in the U.S. and Canada.

Contact has already been established with the new satellites, and they are expected to begin commercial operation before the end of March.

ORBCOMM says it will launch an additional 18 satellites by the middle of the year, giving fleet subscribers near real-time wireless data and message communications.

Developers such as ARINC, LoadLink, and Orbital Sciences are already using the ORBCOMM network to offer truck fleets a variety of services, including untethered trailer tracking, remote vehicle monitoring, and two-way messaging.

A Windows-based maintenance module for TMW System's PC, AS/400, and client/ server product lines, ShopLink handles PM scheduling, repair order creation and tracking, warranty analysis, and other basic shop management functions.

An enhanced version of the module, called ShopLink Pro, adds a number of parts-management features including electronic ordering, automatic tracking of superseded parts numbers, and cross-referencing. Later this year, tire tracking and accounting options will be added to the enhanced maintenance program.

Both versions of ShopLink can be added to existing TMW systems as upgrades and will replace the company's current maintenance software offering for new users.

Midland USA and RoameR One have joined forces to offer a new type of trunked SMR wireless service and mobile communications hardware in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Kansas City. The new voice and data service will use linear modulation (LM) narrow-band technology to provide two-way digital and analog voice and data communications over 220 MHz trunked radio networks.

The package includes a flat monthly rate for air time, LM mobile radio hardware, and fleet management software. Initial applications include construction, local P&D, courier, and service fleets.

American Mobile Satellite Corp., which provides two-way wireless voice and data communications over its own satellite network, has agreed to buy the land-based ARDIS wireless messaging business from Motorola Inc. for $100 million in cash and stock. The deal, which requires federal approval, is expected to be finalized before the end of March.

Combining the two operations will result in a wireless data communications system with major cost and coverage benefits for a variety of truck fleets, accord ing to Robert Goldsmith, COO of American Mobile Satellite Corp. "Our customers will become technology independent," he says. "We can serve all of their wireless communications needs, not just their satellite communications needs."

While satellite is the only technology that can provide complete wireless coverage, it requires a line of sight between the satellite and transceiver, making it ineffective in metropolitan "canyons" or inside buildings.

By comparison, ARDIS's radio-frequency packet-data system provides excellent coverage in metropolitan environments and has good in-building penetration, but its coverage is weak in rural or sparsely populated areas.

The land-based system also has lower communications costs, especially when large amounts of data such as manifests or service records are involved. Potential new markets for the satellite/ terrestrial system include LTL, service, and other fleets that operate in both rural and city locations.

In addition to its satellite-only mobile communications system, AMSC currently offers a multi-mode system that automatically uses the lower-cost ARDIS network if it's available, with the AMSC satellite network acting as an alternate channel. Although the company won't reveal the number of current subscribers using the multi-mode system, Goldsmith says it has been a popular product "and one we believe has significant potential. In fact, that's why we have such a strong interest in (acquiring) ARDIS."

After nearly a year of beta testing, the Intouch Fleet Management wireless tracking and messaging system is now commercially available in both the U.S. and Canada, according to PeopleNet Communications Corp.

The system uses GPS for tracking, existing paging and cellular networks for the two-way wireless link, and the Internet to connect fleets and PeopleNet's communications control center.

The basic on-board hardware for the Intouch system is a GPS antenna and receiver connected to paging and cellular transceiver. Options include additional hardware for data messaging and cellular voice communications. Fleets need only a PC with a modem and Internet access to track vehicles and to send or receive messages from drivers.

Although Street Atlas USA 5.0 from DeLorme is intended for a general consumer audience, it offers a number of useful features for commercial trucking for an estimated street price of only $45. Provided on two CD-ROM disks, the program can locate 98 million street addresses in the U.S. and provide detailed mileage and routing information between them.

In addition, the database can be searched by place names, ZIP codes, area codes and exchanges, and latitude/ longitude readings. It can also handle multiple-stop routes and can print maps with street-level details.

The program's database does not include commercial-vehicle or height restrictions, but it does allow users to edit maps and to indicate roads that should be avoided in building routes. It also includes one-way street information for 91 urban areas.

The new version of Street Atlas can also provide drivers with turn-by-turn audio directions when it's used with DeLorme's Tripmate GPS receiver and a portable PC or a PalmPilot hand-held device. Area maps and routes can be downloaded to a portable PC not equipped with a PalmPilot or a CD-ROM drive.

A new software development tool called Mobility + allows fleets to build wireless links between their host computer systems and drivers or other mobile workers using Dolphin data collection units from Hand Held Products Inc.

The software is designed to work with all popular wireless modems, including those used by Mobitex, CPDP, and RAM Mobile Data services. It runs under a number of operating systems, including Windows 95, Windows NT, OS/2 and DOS, and can use Microsoft Visual or Hand Held Products Batch Simplicity to integrate data from hand-held devices. It also provides the data communications "middleware" to maximize transaction speed and minimize power requirements for the mobile equipment.

Red Gold Inc.'s private fleet operation has become the first customer for HighwayMaster's Platinum Service, which provides complete fleet information management on a per-mile basis.

The new service is based on a management information system developed by Burlington Motor Carriers and acquired by HighwayMaster last year.

The Red Gold fleet, called R.G. Transport, has signed a five-year contract for EDI, dispatching, fuel management, payroll, customer service, accounting, and other management information services for its 80-truck operation.

The fleet is also currently using HighwayMaster's cellular-based mobile communications system in all of its tractors.

The new outsourced IS service, which is targeted at truckload operations, is being offered to HighwayMaster customers on a three-tier pricing basis, with a menu of services including load matching and optimization, archived data storage, and full EDI support.

Fleet Manager is a Windows-based fleet maintenance management program featuring easy data entry and record navigation as well as powerful search and sort capabilities, according to developer Fleet Concepts of Tupelo, Miss.

The program can create and track vehicle PM schedules, track and automatically update parts and fuel inventories, and store detailed vehicle inventories complete with related information on warranties, purchase data, specifications, and optional accessories.

Other features include a personnel management module, repair-order creation with estimated completion times, and a full range of standard and custom reports.

Roadway Express is the first LTL carrier to offer shippers direct access to Canadian Customs' Release Notification System (RNS). Shippers sending freight into Canada can now track status at the fleet's Web site (www.roadway.com) or by calling its automated voice response system.

A Windows-based maintenance management system, Vehicle Maintenance 2000 from TDS Inc. tracks service schedules, repair histories, parts inventories, permits, work orders, and other vehicle information. It can also import existing files from an earlier DOS version of the program.

The U.S. Dept. of Defense has chosen PC*Miler from ALK Assocs. as the official distance calculator for the Defense Table of Official Distances (DTOD). The DTOD project provides uniform worldwide distance information for department personnel, freight, and household goods movements.

Designed to handle both GPS and cellular frequencies, the ASPSD917TGPS antenna from Allen Telecom features a single stainless steel whip and a swivel base. It operates at 824-894 MHz for cellular and 1575.42 MHz for GPS transmissions.

All of HighwayMaster Corp.'s mobile communications customers have been successfully switched from an AT&T switching center to the company's new Network Service Center. The center, which provides wireless data storage and switching, doubles capacity for the company's cellular-based mobile voice and data communications service.

WebLink from TMW Systems Inc. allows shippers quickly to trace loads via the Internet. The new tracking system is designed to integrate easily with a variety of third-party fleet management programs, according to the company.

A multiple battery charger for the Dolphin bar-code scanner and data terminal from Hand Held Products Inc. can handle up to 10 batteries at a time. The unit can fully recharge a NiCad battery in under two hours and a nickel metal hydride battery in less than three hours, according to the company.

Comdata, a provider of funds transfer, fueling, and communications services for the trucking industry, has named Karen King director of marketing for transportation services. King was formerly marketing manager for the company's truckstop services.

The Norand PEN.KEY 6550 is a hand-held PC with a high-resolution touch screen and support for full multi-media PC applications. The 7-lb. unit can be connected to a client/server network through wireless or hardwired connections and is Windows and DOS compatible. It has one parallel and two serial ports. Options include and external keyboard and tethered scanner.

John Davis, general manager of Virginia Overland Transportation, has been elected chairman of the Maintenance Dossier's Fleet Management Users Group. The independent group is a non-profit corporation formed to offer training and user input for the fleet management program from Arsenault Assocs.

Information on available loads and road services are available at www.loadnetsvs.com, a new trucking Web site developed by Load Net Service. For a monthly fee, fleets can also post available equipment and brokers can offer loads.

Developed for small and midsized business, a new Internet service from IBM Corp. provides Web site design, hosting, and e-commerce capability in a single package for a flat monthly fee starting at $29.95. The IBM Home Page Creator service provides site creation and maintenance tools on a single CD-ROM, as well as Internet access and support services such as real-time credit card procession, domain name filing, and registration with leading search engines.

Options for the business Web-site service include unlimited Internet access and expanded online product catalog Web pages. IBM says it intends to add additional services in the next few months.

For more information, visit http://mypage-products.ihost.com and enter priority code HPCCD.

Skymark II from Cimarron Technologies Corp. offers GPS-based vehicle tracking and options for data and text messaging over existing conventional and trunked two-way radio systems. The base mobile unit, which includes a GPS receiver, automatically attaches vehicle ID, location, and speed information to all voice communications from a driver.

A handheld terminal adds the ability to send status messages to dispatchers. The terminal also includes an RS-232 serial port, which allows the system to be used with a portable computer for two-way messaging, including e-mail, and mobile mapping.

The system's base station includes Vehicle Tracker dispatch software, a Windows 95-based package that provides multiple map displays, automatic vehicle polling, and tracking for up to 400 trucks. Both standalone and LAN versions of the system are available.