Low-cost mobile phone service keeps staff on track

A tracking service based on mobile phones could allow small businesses to locate their staff, or parents to find their children without using expensive GPS systems.

The FleetOnline.net service from Belgian company Teydo uses location information provided by mobile phone service providers to allow fleet managers to track the position of their staff using an online map.

The service does not require extra office equipment or in-car transmitters, and unlike GPS systems that rely on being in the line of sight of satellites, it can provide information even when the phone user is under a bridge or in a built-up area, said Dr Erik Jansen, managing director of FleetOnline.

In July, EU directive e112 will require all mobile phone operators to be able to provide information concerning the location of handset users who have dialled the emergency services.

When switched on, mobiles are always in contact with the nearest mast, even when a call is not being made. Masts are divided into a number of sectors, with signals being received on a particular one depending on the position of the user’s phone. The caller’s longitude and latitude are determined by analysing which cell is receiving the signal from their phone, and which sector is dealing with it. The system is accurate to within 100m in urban areas and up to 50m in rural locations. Both the e112 and FleetOnline services use this capability to gain phones’ locations.

In order to use FleetOnline, companies must first register with the website which then sends a message and a code to each phone to be tracked. The phone owner must then send back a text containing the code to give their permission to be tracked. They can also set options such as time windows on the site, allowing them to opt in only during office hours. The system is disabled when a phone is switched off.

Once registration is completed, managers can track staff at any time for a cost of between 20 and 28p per request. A text message can also be sent, allowing managers to give staff details of delivery locations or further instructions.