Steve –

I was responsible for researching and selecting the GPS system we currently use, which, as Christy mentioned, is provided by a company called “Discreet Wireless.”  We have been happy with the performance of this company and their system, and I would recommend it to others. What follows may be more information than you really want, but I found that the GPS marketplace is a tangled mess of fly-by-night companies and thorny technical issues. After researching about a dozen GPS providers, this is the outline of issues and questions I used to select our system:

 -The cost/unit of the actual GPS devices (the hardware) that are installed in vehicles. This can vary widely. I was quoted anything from $200 to $1000/unit. Discreet was one of the most affordable.

 -The cost/unit for installation, and whether the company will allow you to install the devices yourself. Discreet allowed us to install the units ourselves, avoiding costly installation fees.

 -The cost/unit/month for the GPS service.  This cost/month can include service fees and, for “Active” systems, data transmission fees.  Also, what type of service contract is required with the GPS company? (much like the contract you sign with a cell phone provider). Discreet requires a 2 or 3 year contract, but their monthly service fee is one of the lowest I found.

 -Is the GPS service Active or Passive? “Active” indicates the GPS units use a cellular service to constantly send data to a central location, regardless of where GPS units are currently located, resulting in “real time” GPS data; “Passive” indicates GPS units must return to a central location, like your shop, in order to “download” the data before you can access it. We have an “Active” system from Discreet, because we want to be able to view the location of all our trucks in real time.

 -If the GPS service is “Active,” does the system require a secondary cellular provider and “data plan” in order to send the GPS data to you? (if they do, it can be a hidden cost; unless you ask, GPS companies won’t tell you that in addition to their fees, you’re going to pay AT&T a big monthly charge for data transmission). Discreet includes all data transmission fees in their own monthly fee; we do not have to pay a separate cellular provider.

 -Is the GPS company an “end to end” provider? Many GPS companies act as brokers for several different GPS manufacturers. They cobble together systems by providing GPS units (hardware) from one company, data processing and transmission services from a second company, and software and mapping systems from a third company. Discreet is an “end to end” provider; they design and manufacture the entire system in-house, which makes their system one of the easiest to install and use.

-Is the GPS system “web-based?” The upside of web-based systems is that you can access your company’s GPS data from any computer via the internet, with a simple login and password, and you don’t have to worry about computer compatibility issues or purchasing/updating special software. The potential downside of web-based systems is that the GPS provider stores all your GPS data. Questions to ask with web-based systems: how long does the GPS company retain your GPS data, how long you can access that data free of charge, and how much will it cost to access older data? Discreet is a web-based system; we can go on any computer with an internet connection, log in to Discreet Wireless’s website, and view our truck activity in real time. Discreet gives us access to our GPS data for 90 days, and if we ever need older information for legal purposes, Discreet will provide it for a small fee.

-Does the GPS system require special software to be installed on every computer? This is closely related to the “web-based” question. With non-web-based systems that require special software, you will have to install the software every time you want to connect a new computer to the GPS system. The downside of these GPS systems includes software licensing fees (charged per computer), periodic updates, and potential service charges if problems arise. The upside of non-web-based systems is that you store and control all GPS data on your own computer/server. Discreet requires no special software to be installed.

-What mapping system does the GPS system utilize? We like the fact that Discreet Wireless maps all of our GPS data onto Google Maps, which are constantly being updated and are very easy to use. Some GPS companies require you to purchase and install special 3rd party mapping software. A lot of 3rd party mapping software is not user-friendly and is not routinely updated.

-How many “PTO’s” are included on the GPS units (the hardware in each truck)? A “PTO” is basically an input that can be connected to different parts of a truck to tell you things like whether a salter is running, whether a snow plow blade is positioned up or down, or even when a door has been open or closed. The range of these extra “inputs” is 5 or 6 on the high end, to zero on the low end. Discreet GPS units provide 2 PTO’s, though we haven’t found a need to use them.

-Do the GPS units monitor and transmit engine data? Discreet’s do not. This feature tends to be more important to trucking companies than landscapers, but if you want it, you can find GPS units that will track detailed engine performance such as fuel efficiency, air filter function, emissions, and acceleration/deceleration rates. It tends to be an expensive addition.

Thanks again to Jason Sloat at Christy Weber Landscapes, Chicago, IL

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