By Donald Dunphy, Contributing Editor
In early January, Geotab announced the availability of its upgraded GO9 port-connected telematics device. The GO9+ features Wi-Fi connectivity that provides businesses with full real-time visibility of vehicles with the added component of up to four hours of usage with the ignition off. GO9+ will be offered through AT&T initially, with networks in Canada launching the solution mid-2021.
“It’s an art form these days to develop a product like ours that fits into a very small form yet meets all the necessary regulatory standards,” said Colin Sutherland, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Geotab. “This product has been in development for over a year and a half. Because it is a Wi-Fi enabled device with a cellular modem, gaining the certifications for such a device through the AT&T network can be quite complex.”
Further, Sutherland explained, the Wi-Fi component required additional certification as per the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which meant additional strategic planning for the product cycle.
The GO9+ platform arrives as fleets start considering how their present telematics options will fare when 3G wireless mobile telecommunications technology shuts down in 2022 in the United States. Sutherland noted this is something Geotab has been steering toward for some time now. “Geotab stopped selling 3G-based modems over three years ago in North America, so the vast majority of our customers which have refreshed their fleets on an annual basis have already upgraded to 4G and will be unaffected.”
However, many vehicles will be affected by the sunsetting of 3G connectivity. Sutherland noted that some of the OEMs which were early adopters of embedding telematics in their cars and trucks face obsolescence. “These connected vehicles sold from 5-7 years ago and were non-LTE.”
Geotab currently has roughly 1.7 million connected fleet vehicles in the United States and Canada. “A large population – around half of these – account for small businesses with approximately 5-10 vehicles out in the field and servicing customers.”
The challenge for companies will be in navigating an uncertain economic climate provoked by the worldwide downturn exacerbated by the effects of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). “Cost-control is top-of-mind in 2021,” Sutherland said. “(Businesses will be extra vigilant in) keeping control of your assets, knowing where your people are throughout the workday, even being cost-effective with the current fleet and technology you’re using as you monitor running costs-per-mile.”
That increased focus on the bottom line will affect all types of upgrades in the fleet industry, regardless of the potential benefits said upgrades might derive for users. “It would be lovely to be able to transfer some of (a current fleet’s) petroleum-fueled vehicles to electric, but only if it makes cost-effective sense right now, not necessarily because a company has a sustainability roadmap. No one wants to have a major capital expense during these times.”
The advancements to Geotab’s solution were made with flexibility and cost-consciousness in mind. Being a plug-in device, the base unit is ideal for smaller fleets that require utility from all vehicles and cannot afford to sideline equipment for upfitting. According to Sutherland, GO9+ can transfer from standard-fueled vehicles to electric vehicles effortlessly and remains supported by the MyGeotab platform, which provides managers with centralized access to all connected vehicle data.
“If I run a small business, I’m likely doing a comprehensive technology audit to discover redundancies and potential cost reductions,” said Sutherland. “There will be costs for in-vehicle telematics subscriptions, connected tablets, and mobile devices generating monthly costs, and then there are costs people were not expecting. For example, we understand that during COVID-19 there’s been a dramatic shift to remote working. A lot of companies have invested in smart devices for their employees to meet new needs, but these generate an additional monthly fee on top of all the technology devices you’re already paying for.”
In terms of cost-savings, GO9+ reduces the number of cellular connections in the field while improving access to data options for employees while retaining the core values of the original GO9 system: improved acceleration tracking, a more accurate GPS, and better support for vehicle-generated data and for new vehicle types.
“The vast majority of small customers use telematics for dispatch and routing, mapping, and GPS geolocation,” added Sutherland. “This is almost the sole necessity of the majority of the 3 million connected units out there which will require upgrading in the United States. For these, the telematics are only capable of connecting the GPS up to a map server. There was no accelerometer to discover heavy-braking, the safety components, the seatbelt detection. These loss-control functions are largely used for safety management and insurance purposes, particularly for fleets that self-insure.”
Fleets also use telematics for data codes for predictive maintenance purposes. “A lot of our customers rely on our technology for diagnostic trouble codes,” said Sutherland, noting that GO9+ unifies all these key functions while adding the benefits of Wi-Fi integration.
Sutherland added that with the eventual driver force transition to electric vehicles in the next 3-5 years, the process of determining which vehicles are best-suited candidates for change-out can be made easier through the GO9+ data. “The system can be installed in a vehicle with a combustion engine, and then we can run an Electric Vehicle Suitability Assessment that tells the fleet manager if the vehicle in question – how it is being driven, the inbound/outbound miles-driven, how long it is parked – should be upgraded to an EV.”
The diagnostic trouble codes generated by combustion vehicles are different from EV ones, but an entirely different telematics system is not necessary, said Sutherland. “The GO9+ allows for transition between the two vehicle types. You unplug from the combustion engine vehicle and go straight into the EV to get the unique EV trouble codes using that same device.”
The GO9+ rollout has begun in the United States and will be introduced to other regions throughout 2021.