AUSTRALIA’S monitoring industry is built around properties in the domestic, government and commercial end user markets. The existing market shape grew out of the constraints of copper-based landlines and only in recent years have quality GSM and GPRS services underscored the potential for vast growth in far broader applications. While players in wireless monitoring have so far kept their sights firmly on delivering high security monitoring services to physical addresses, a new niche market based on mobile monitoring services has been quietly developing. The first active player in the general mobile monitoring market was QuikTrak Networks, with a technology that uses a local network of wireless towers and a process of triangulation to track vehicles across Australia’s major cities. Now a new player, T-Trak, plans to employ GPS-based mobile alarm monitoring and an aggressive business model to give end users and monitoring stations a level of functionality and flexibility the likes of which they’ve never seen before. T-Trak’s thinking is simple. The company offers functional, reliable and secure monitoring options at a surprisingly low cost. How low cost? According to T-Trak, the wholesale price point for a monitoring device with standard 90 second integrity polling, along with theft and duress tracking at 1 second intervals, would be $7.50 per month – that’s just 90 bucks a year! T-Trak says an indicative cost for a device tracked moving for an average of 12 hours per day, 365 days per year; along with 10-second sampling intervals 7 days week, is under $150 a year. This cost includes that 1 second sampling rate on duress ($12.50 per month) and 90-second integrity polling as standard. Given the cost of tracking devices starts at a skimpy $399, this cost structure represents something big in local and global monitoring markets. Important too, once the T-Trak software is purchased, the only ongoing costs are outlays for additional tracking devices and for point-to-point data usage between the asset and the monitoring facility. What’s clear from the get-go is that T-Trak is looking to make its money not through the recurring revenue of telco rebates but by putting affordable monitoring technology into the hands of anyone who wants it. It’s a powerful example of lateral thinking. T-Trak wants to grow the monitoring market massively and not just nationally. This a global solution and its management software is pre-configured with maps of the areas it is being used – Australia and most other countries in the world. As you’d imagine, customization is an important element with a solution like this. T-Trak clients that require their own software or mapping customisation can have have it built in as a standard feature. Such customization can include integration of aerial photographs or site plans or any other custom GIS imagery that can be embedded in the software. Given its global focus and the breadth of the intended applications, T-Trak’s system is designed to be used with any carrier and it’s not dependent on the support of third party routers. Nor is T-Trak’s gear dependent solely on the support of monitoring stations. This solution is designed so it can be monitored by an end user or by a central station, from anywhere, and that throws a plethora of new applications into the mix. Before we get up to our necks in this, the fundamentals of T-Trak are that it’s a GPS-based RF technology that allows the monitoring of any asset, fixed or mobile, with a polling speed down to one second. You can monitor vehicle fleets, laptop computers, security officers, shipping containers, a hire boat fleet, your house and office, a team of security officers – whatever you have that needs monitoring. And it’s a scalable platform, too, designed to support a single portable laptop or the largest of networks with equal ease. According to T-Trak’s Trent English, the system is built around a tracking device that autonomously determines its position on earth via GPS satellites or assisted positioning techniques. This tracking device is commissioned to know its end termination point during installation and taking this into account, it sends encrypted data via a wireless telemetry link to a control room. “Telemetry links can be a choice of either (GPRS wireless radio modem, ADSL connection, Frame Relay connection, Fiber etc.) or a combination of all for redundancy,” English says. “The data signals are then terminated directly into a control room facility that’s monitoring the field device using our T-Trak software.” According to English, the alarm or notification is then presented to operators to action in a graphical way, with the precise location of the asset as it moves in real-time with pre-defined commissioning instructions on what the operator needs to do. “Conversely, an operator can view a single asset or many assets, in real time, on a graphical mapping display that is incorporated into the software as standard,” he says. As English explains, the telecommunications link of the customer’s choice is used and if these links are not functional the T-Trak software alerts the operator to the fact and allows them to action link failure accordingly in a dynamic, transparent and time, date stamped fashion. “It really is that simple,” English says. According to English, an important element of the system for end uses who undertake their own monitoring is that customers can have a sense of accountability for asset monitoring residing within their own organisations. “Customers are not exposed to administration elements other than those of the provider they have chosen to deliver data from the tracking device to their facility,” English says. “No information is routed anywhere other than from the originating device, through the telecommunications infrastructure and directly into the organisation’s facility.” T-Trak’s not just for self-management, of course. While some larger companies might take on monitoring of their fleets or assets, small and medium businesses would be more likely to rely on bundled tracking services delivered by clever monitoring stations with a weather eye on the main game. “T-Trak technology is ideal for central stations looking to round out their product offerings with an affordable mobile asset monitoring solution,” English says. “There’s no reason a central station should limit itself to monitoring static addresses when the technology exists to significantly broaden their spread of services.” “Along with all this, T-Trak’s functionality is enhanced by the ease of installation, commissioning and support which taken together make T-Trak a unique and affordable choice for most asset monitoring applications.”

System structure and application

 So what does T-Trak constitute in terms of hardware and software? It’s straightforward stuff. First there’s a Mobile Data Unit installed in the asset to be tracked. Next comes a desktop or server computer – no need for this to be dedicated to the monitoring task, mind you. Then there’s a telemetry link connected to the computer – this will be a modem or an RF receiver. The final piece in the puzzle is T-Trak software loaded onto the computer or server. Supporting all this is a range of hardware options that allow solutions to suit security and surveillance monitoring, trailer and container monitoring plus a range of custom Mobile Data Units, all of which offer cost effective data communication with assets. According to English, the T-Trak monitoring technology has a whole range of applications that assist in the management of assets and business operations. “T-Trak gives users powerful management intelligence at a whole range of levels – not just security,” says English. “The system allows end users to know the location of every asset at all times, as well as supporting alarm and duress monitoring and assistance. “You can monitor the traveling speed of assets and view journeys in real time in order to improve fleet utilization – at the same time the system assists with OH&S compliance. English says that from a design and market capability perspective, the T-Trak solution is totally adaptable, secure, non-reliant on third party vendors for additional routing and a great compliance tool. “Obviously the nature of this product opens up many areas for revenue generation when installed in control rooms,” English explains. “It’s a natural progression from purely fixed asset monitoring and reporting and allows a truly mobile asset monitoring capability. “T-Trak software offers this in a cohesive, purpose-built design platform,” he says. “Some organisations might find their client base static or tapering off because of competition in the market place. T-Trak gives these companies a very easy and affordable tool to differentiate in a meaningful way. “For many of these organisations, it is like starting fresh in the industry and it means they offer their existing clientele a value added service, as well as generating additional revenue and growth for their companies,” English explains. English says many organisations are already aware of their OH & S legal obligations, with new legislative changes coming into effect, particularly in the cash in transmit area. “Lone workers are one case in point,” he says. “Employers have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment and this extends to personnel driving vehicles. T-Trak software can play a key role in assisting such organisations meet those obligations. “Our software is not necessarily used as a surveillance tool – it could be simply a case of having a duress function for the driver to alert the person monitoring that they need assistance, or it can simply be interfaced to alert of an airbag deployment in an accident.”

Product development

 

Like most good ideas, T-Trak has a very long history. The current system is a happy convergence of recent developments across a host of cutting edge positioning and data comms technologies and a clever idea English had 2 decades ago. “T-Trak really began with my hobby as an amateur radio enthusiast in the early 1980’s,” English explains. “I was using triangulation techniques to locate other users of two-way radio systems and was always looking for a way of integrating these techniques to allowing plotting on to a map. Computers at the time were just becoming popular and I thought it would be a neat thing to be able to track and plot locations onto a computer screen. “At the time I wanted to harness these computer systems to let me bring information into a database with a mapping function. Of course the technology of the time was not as advanced as my idea but what’s important is that real world applications were the focus then and they still are today.” English says that his subsequent experiences working with investigative and law enforcement agencies in the surveillance industry were another key driver in the development of T-Trak. “In the surveillance industry, the lack of a unified approach to asset tracking, vendor imposed limitations, proprietary systems, pricing and a disparate development lifecycle all fuelled a fierce passion to invent something that would enhance the entire tracking marketplace,” English explains. “Technology, databases, computers and wide spread radio based networks have grown a lot since then – the GSM phone network has opened up a large global footprint for tracking applications without relying on a proprietary-based expensive radio network – and such developments were vital to the realization of T-Trak.” “It’s also important to realize communications technology changes and improves all the time,” English explains. “The way of the future is likely to be 3.5 and 4G network systems along with ratification of WiMax on various frequencies. “Perhaps it will be a hybrid of both mediums; they are evolving and in all likelihood they’ll surpass the traditional fixed wire line services. Newer technologies will become cheaper, and they’re sure to be superior both in terms of features, bandwidth and redundancy to what is in use today.” According to English, a central pillar of the T-Trak philosophy has always been to avoid locking customers into proprietary data delivery services – the T-Trak philosophy is flexibility, pure and simple, and when you take T-Trak’s global aspirations into account it’s an approach that makes perfect sense. “Whether that is via the GSM network, the CDMA network, satellite, or other radio based systems we don’t care – T-Trak will work with all of them,” he explains. Most important, English says is the fact that users want choice and vigorous competition between suppliers. “Competition is healthy and looking at the the development of free open network systems and hybrid pay/free services – customers need to be able to access such services moving forward.” Taking all this into account, English says T-Trak deliberately sets out to open up the market place globally for tracking software that allows freedom of choice for almost any tracking hardware platform and telemetry system end users wish to use. “Once they’ve made their choice we supply software, installation, training and support,” English explains. “Customers are free to choose from various vendors for their hardware tracking devices and IT systems. T-Trak is aligned with the top 5 manufacturing and supply houses in the world for tracking IT systems integrators. This makes the transition as seamless, transparent and affordable as possible for our clients. “Something else that makes this solution attractive is that on the network side we are vendor neutral and hardware agnostic,” English says. “Our software can be integrated into other monitoring and database systems where required and we aim to work with our clients to achieve the best possible outcome for their needs now and into the future.” Important with any monitoring platform is that the system be very easy to learn. When SE&N saw the system in action it was obvious this was a straightforward and intuitive solution. According to English, T-Trak customers report that it usually takes no more than 15 minutes for users to be able to, commission new assets, action alarms, running reports and setting up there own user preferences. “I put an extreme amount of attention to detail into this area with Glenn Halbedl, the Chief Software Architect. This was a key design element because I think many users and organisations are growing tired of having to spend valuable time and resources on using new software platforms, our software is very intuitive, well laid out and easy to navigate through.” The monitoring business is competitive but English says it’s more than large enough for all players and through products like T-Trak, it will only grow larger. In English’s opinion, market needs will drive successful products and he cites T-Trak’s dream debut at Security 2007 as a case in point. “Security 2007 allowed us to demonstrate in an open way the benefits our system offers to control rooms and end user organisations which depend on a reliable, secure and totally versatile asset tracking solution,” English explains. “I purpose-built a bureau management system into our software for the control room industry,” English says. “It allows control rooms an opportunity to participate in this area and opens up additional revenue streams and interest in this feature was intense. We estimate that around 900 visitors attended our stand at Security 2007 and I didn’t get a single negative comment. “I would go as far to say that T-Trak will revolutionise the way vendors approach the security industry with their software platforms,” English insists. “And from an operational standpoint I believe T-Trak will change the paradigm of asset tracking and location systems.”