Some of the largest users of wireless technology can be seen in the transportation and shipping industry; Federal Express and United Parcel are good examples. Another area is that of automated vehicle location systems that are supported through a combination of satellite and landline systems coupled with the Internet.
A good example of a consumer-level system can be seen in the OnStar product being offered as an option with some high-end General Motors products, such as their Cadillac automobile product line. The OnStar system is combined with a cellular service and the GPS tracking system. The system provides a series of end-user services that includes travel directions, emergency road services, automobile enabling services, personal notification, and theft notification.
The OnStar system uses a GPS tracking device that is installed on the vehicle and allows the OnStar control center to locate a subscriber's vehicle. Through a cellular link with an on-board computer, the control center can detect if the car's airbags have been deployed. If so, the control center detects a change, and a call to the subscriber is made to determine if there is a need for assistance. The control center also can remotely open the car doors if the subscriber has locked himself out of the car.
Qualcomm offers a multilevel vehicle location and monitoring service for large trucking and transport companies. This service is supported through a combination of satellite, cellular, and landline services. Trucks with special roof-mounted units can be tracked and monitored anywhere within the United States and Canada. Monitoring includes truck system performance, loading and unloading events, as well as redirection of vehicles for new load pickups. Drivers are able to communicate with the control center via messaging or cellular wireless contact. Through landline contact with the Qualcomm control center, dispatchers are able to dispatch and manage all company assets deployed on the nation's highway network.
A surprisingly large number of health care service providers have taken advantage of wireless technology. Good examples of the application of wireless technology can be seen at Austin Regional Clinic, Indiana Methodist Hospital, St. Joseph Hospital, Wausau Hospital, and Winthrop-University Hospital, to name a few. All of these facilities have essentially the same problem: getting to patient information, where and when needed. Many found that they had to take handwritten notes to the nearest nurse station and enter the information manually into a computer terminal. As a result, administrators had to come up with a more-efficient way to operate.
Austin Regional Clinic elected to supply its medical professionals with mobile handheld computers to record and retrieve patient information in real-time. These terminals were linked to the clinic's Novell Netware LAN using PCMCIA modem cards. A series of wireless distributed access points located throughout the clinic provided a direct link to the LAN via a corresponding link in the clinic's communications server. The portable computers used were grid pad, pen-based portables configured with application screens, and allowed medical professionals simplified data entry and retrieval. This system eliminated large amounts of paperwork, thus allowing the professionals to function in a paperless environment.
In some manufacturing plants, sensors and programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are used to control many of the processes related to product manufacturing. In many places, these devices are hardwired into high-maintenance networks that need frequent attention. In many plants, these networks have been fitted with Ethernet interfaces as part of a plantwide LAN. However, many plant managers have found that they can refit with wireless adapter cards that provide an RF link to wireless access points located around the plant. These arrangements link the PLCs directly into the wired LAN and the server, ensuring timely monitoring of all devices.
Avon Products, Inc. faced an expensive problem in extending the LAN in a Chicago-area plant's factory floor. In this facility, production lines were not static and subject to regular reconfiguration. Furthermore, operator mobility required to support 50 production lines along 500 linear feet confounded the problem of rewiring print stations to support the operators with barcode labels. Instead of rewiring, a series of printers configured with wireless modems were set up to receive barcode label files from print servers. The plant has a series of distributed base stations (terminal servers) that are linked to the LAN and a host system that supports the wireless link between the wireless printers and the LAN. The print servers, which are linked to the LAN Ethernet, receive barcode files from a VAX computer. As product is being manufactured, barcode information can be sent to the appropriate print server, where it can then be routed to the proper remote wireless printer.
The Pacific Exchange (on the West Coast) and Hull Trading (headquartered in Chicago) both opted to deploy wireless terminals on the trading floor to simplify the trading process. Instead of walking to a static terminal to enter trade information, traders can now do that from their handheld terminals. This innovation permits much faster trades, while eliminating many manual steps and the reliance on handwritten notes.