What the Sunset of the 2G Network Means for GPS and Student Transportation

What is the 2G network?

The “G” in 2G stands for the “Generation” of the cellular network. A higher number before the ‘G’ means more power to send out and receive more information and therefore the ability to achieve a higher efficiency through the wireless network.

The 2G network is based on narrow band digital networks. Signals are transmitted in digital format. The 3rd generation of mobile networks (3G) has become the most popular network as it allows devices to access the internet and complete complex tasks or download large files. There is now a 4G network which offers extreme download speeds.

The 2G and 3G networks are commonly used by GPS devices to broadcast signals, detect location and receive information.

Why is the 2G network being sunsetted?

For two reasons:

  1. The mobile phone industry is running out of the airwaves necessary to provide voice, text and internet services to its customers. The problem, known as the “spectrum crunch,” threatens to increase the number of dropped calls, slow down data speeds and raise customers’ prices. Wireless spectrum — the invisible infrastructure over which all wireless transmissions travel — is a finite resource. As carriers deal with ever-increasing data usage on their networks, they also are facing a spectrum shortage to carry all the traffic. Shutting down the legacy 2G networks will allow carriers to repurpose some parts of the spectrum for use in the more popular 3G and 4G networks.
  2. 2G devices (particularly phones) are no longer popular products for consumers. The enormous explosion in the popularity of smartphones and tablets has made the 3G and 4G networks far more profitable for carriers than the 2G network.

When will the closing of the network take effect?

AT&T will completely sunset the 2G network by December 31st, 2016. However, some places may see loss of service before that date.

Verizon’s 2G network will sunset by 2021 but, again, rural areas may see loss of service before that date.

T-Mobile and Sprint have not set dates for the sunset of their 2G networks. However, the pressure on carriers to provide 3G and 4G bandwidth will continue to increase, making it likely that they will reduce their 2G service over time.

In Canada, carrier terminology is a bit different. There was an older cellular network referred to as the CDMA network, which was similar to America’s 1G or Analog network. 2G and 3G networks are both bundled under the name “GSM networks.” The 4G network is called “LTE.” These are the same technologies as are used in the US; the main difference is that 2G and 3G are not marketed as separate services.

The CDMA network is being sunsetted, so any GPS devices which connected via that network are experiencing loss of service. All bands of the GSM network are currently supported. However, Canadian carriers are facing the same “spectrum crunch” as American carriers, and in time devices which rely on less popular spectrum bands (2G devices) may begin to experience loss of service.

How does this affect my district?

If your district’s fleet uses 2G GPS devices for vehicle tracking, you will need to migrate to 3G-capable devices. You must upgrade before your carrier’s 2G network goes down. If you do not migrate by that date, your GPS devices will no longer be able to communicate with global positioning networks or with your transportation software.

If you are on a carrier that has not set a date for shutdown, you should still consider upgrading to a more secure, more modern option. Due to the spectrum crunch, all 2G networks will begin experiencing brown outs and “cold spots” where 2G devices cannot receive a signal.

What do I need to do to migrate to the 3G network?

If you are already a Versatrans / Tyler Telematic GPS customer, and you bought your GPS devices after 2013, you are already on the 3G network. If you bought your devices prior to 2013, all you have to do is contact your Versatrans representative to schedule your migration.

If your district is not currently a Versatrans customer, we would be delighted to discuss your options with you. The upgrade to the newer Tyler GPS system can improve your district’s technology; for example, our GPS includes features such as driver time reporting. These features can make your fleet safer and more efficient.

If you are interested in learning more:

Exploring 2G, 3G, 4G Technology. Geotab Blog.

Demystifying 2G vs. 3G ; CDMA vs. GSM. Imetrik.

AT&T to Leave 2G Behind. The Wall Street Journal.

2G ‘Sunset’ Transition: Cellular Providers to Begin to Whittle Away 2G Network. Dealer Business Journal.

What the 2G Sunset Means to the Automotive Industry. GoldStar CMS.

Tales From the Road: Transportation Department Turns Budget Shortfall into Surplus

As a Tyler Technologies employee, there’s nothing I like better than stories of school districts using Tyler products and seeing great success. Here’s a great story of a district that was facing huge overruns in their transportation budget, and who used Versatrans to save money — without reducing their service or laying off drivers.

The district hired a new director of transportation in 2012, and he inherited a sticky situation: a projected budget shortfall of $1.7 million! “The demographics of our community had dramatically changed,” explained the director, “resulting in our department failing to meet its budget over the last eight years. Transportation was bleeding funds from the district that were designated for other areas, causing leadership to begin the conversation about outsourcing our transportation.” It wasn’t hard for him to find the source of the budget overruns: “From day one on the job, I was told that we had buses running routes that have only a handful of students on them. If this was the case, certainly there were dollars to save. I could find the ‘low hanging fruit.’ But I needed to determine where else to make cuts.” The district had been a Versatrans customer for some time, but this director found that the program was not being utilized to address the efficiency problems.

This director used Versatrans to run reports, and surveyed the schools to make sure that his numbers for enrollment and ridership were all accurate. Once he was sure that he had the right data, he could tell his routers within extreme accuracy just how many vehicles each building would have access to, and how many students were expected to ride those buses. With that information, the district routers were able to design routes in Versatrans and analyze them to ensure that they maximized efficiency.

When analysis was complete the district was able to eliminate 31 routes, a reduction of approximately 10 percent. But these changes didn’t mean that families were feeling a loss of service. “Route timeliness greatly improved as all the routes were now staffed,” explained the transportation director. “Parents and students saw no negatives as a result of ridership changes or route times. In fact, the community and stakeholders were much happier with our efficiencies.”

Thanks to the savings in routing, the district was able to completely overhaul their transportation program. They sold 12 buses which were no longer needed, saving maintenance and insurance dollars and improving the ratio of mechanics to buses. In total, more than $500 thousand in costs were removed from the department’s budget within the first year. Their projected $1.7 million budget shortfall turned into a $50 thousand surplus at the end of the year! And best of all, the route reductions enabled them to fully staff their driver pool without any layoffs.

Congratulations to these dedicated transportation professionals for their success!

Don’t Just Say It, SHOW It!

In a few weeks, I’ll be celebrating my four-year anniversary as a Versatrans Account Rep here at Tyler Technologies. That’s four years I’ve spent working with transportation officials across the country. I’ve learned a lot in my time here and I’m still learning — but it sure didn’t take long for me to figure out just how challenging and dynamic school transportation is, and how many issues and details any given transportation department might be dealing with at one time. School transportation professionals really take the idea of “wearing many hats” to another level!

Let’s start with the core duty of the transportation department — just a little something called safely transporting the youth of America (very precious cargo) roundtrip to school every day. In attempting to complete this one essential duty, a few things could come up: accidents, bad weather, field trips, student disciplinary issues, redistricting, board meetings, breakdowns (mechanical and otherwise), state reports, issues with driver unions, community complaints, managing employees, contractors, inspections, certifications and maybe even a rare compliment… and on top of all this, the constant communication with district parents and guardians!

I used to walk amongst the ignorant. Luckily, I’ve been given the chance to be educated and I now know just how hardworking our customers are, and how transportation is very much at the heart of everything that goes on at the school district. Unfortunately, most people (inside and outside the district) will never know “what are they doing all day long?” In 2015 I would like our customers to get the credit they deserve.

Step one in getting the credit you deserve is obvious, yet overlooked by most. You’ve got to track what’s going on — the good, the bad, the ugly and the boring! It’s great that you’ve got it all in your head… unfortunately this leaves you without much actual documentation. What happened? Who was involved? What did you do about it? Once a few weeks pass, who the heck knows? When approached for information of any kind, instead of being caught off guard, winging it or having a panic attack, wouldn’t it be nice to have some documentation to back up your claims and help sort everything out? I’ll answer that for you: YES!

Based on the feedback I’ve heard, effectively tracking and managing incidents requires a program that is flexible, dynamic, and hardworking — just like our friends in transportation.

The start of a new year is the perfect time for all of us to start tracking how awesome we are.

Don’t just SAY it, SHOW it!

Remember When We Used to Call It High Tech?

I still remember getting my first PC at work (1988), my first email (1992) and even proudly showing my dad how I could instantly alphabetize a long list of names with my spreadsheet. In the beginning, technology seemed like a special, almost magical addition to our lives. Contrast that with the influence of technology on your typical workday today:

  • You draft all communications using a word processing program.
  • The vast majority of these communications are then shared through email, websites or social media.
  • You manage not only your budget but most aspects of your operation using a spreadsheet.
  • You have a full library of documents you can access at a moment’s notice.
  • You use an electronic calendar program to stay on schedule.
  • You rely on the internet of all things for daily critical business information.
  • You use financial and reporting platforms that communicate across your organization.
  • It is unthinkable to leave home without your smart phone.

We have reached the point where technology has become integrated into virtually every aspect of our daily and work lives.

In light of this evolution, it seems crazy that the notion persists that the purchase and use of software solutions — which are absolutely critical for us to perform our most important functions — are somehow standalone “IT” decisions.

Let me explain what I mean. How many times have you heard an on-the-ground employee say, “Oh, my boss does not use the software” or that their boss does not even know how to use the software? In my experience this is an all too common condition. And a damaging one! Any organization, including school districts, needs to have all members of the administration looking at and understanding the software that their employees use in their day-to-day work. Otherwise, how can an organization determine whether the program is meeting their needs, or being used to its full potential?

Effective leadership today means that we do not view our information technology as something separate from our core mission. “We’ll have to talk to IT about that” needs to be a sentiment from the past.

Effective leadership in 2015 means being a continuous learner. It means that we are constantly acquiring and improving upon our technical knowledge and capabilities. It means that we take the time to learn all the functional capabilities of our software solutions, becoming fully knowledgeable about what these tools can accomplish. It means that instead of frustration with technology we have the attitude of “let me try to figure this out.”

And, most importantly, it means we model this attitude for our staff. Instead of the behind the back mutters of “the boss does not use the software,” let’s start hearing that our administrators lead by example in the sophisticated use of technology to move our organizations forward.

We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

Wikipedia tells us “A truism is a claim that is so obvious or self-evident as to be hardly worth mentioning.”

I think we would all agree that our work as K-12 transportation professionals is filled with truisms, concepts that are so obvious or self-evident that we might find ourselves taking them for granted. This post explores eight of these truisms, documenting them so that we do not take them for granted but rather hold them up as shining examples of our vocations.

There are many different ways to be a transportation director

I’ve known transportation directors who were on the street every day. I’ve also known transportation directors who never left the office. Both styles were effective. One of the great qualities of our profession, but also one of the great challenges, is that there are almost as many styles of management leadership among our ranks as there are transportation directors. There is no one-size-fits-all model. Our charge is to find a management style that works for us, for our programs and, most importantly, for our students.

Our job is to help children access their education

We have the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of the children we serve. Access to education is a critical ingredient in the successful educational experience of a child. Whether we are talking about school choice, rural areas or hazard zones, the support we provide allows children to access the educational opportunities they deserve.

We are a downstream service

The services we are required to provide are determined by someone else. The Student Assignment Plan sets the stage. Once placement occurs, eligibility for district-provided transportation then defines which students we transport. Support for students with an IEP completes our service requirements. Our job is to take the hand we are dealt and deliver our program with the optimum of efficiency while maintaining the safety and service levels expected.

A route either runs out of time or runs out of seats

We fill a bus up with children or we run out of time and have to head into school. One or the other of these two conditions is at play with every single run we create. Efficiency depends on our skillful balance of metrics such as students per run, students per mile and students per minute.

Never leave a child behind at a bus stop

Only bad things can happen if we refuse a child a ride at the morning bus stop. Whatever the cause for confusion, the bus stop is usually a bad place for resolution. Drivers should always get the child on the bus, call in on the radio to explain the situation and then be ready to assist school personnel with a resolution once they get that far.

Take them for a ride

Children are safe when they are on the bus because they are under the protection of the bus driver and, more importantly, we know where they are. There is no worse feeling than to hear from a parent that they are unsure where their child is. Anytime there is ever a question or uncertainty with the afternoon drop off, the bus driver is always correct to keep the child on the bus, call in to dispatch with the problem and “take them for a ride.” By taking the child for a ride, we keep the child safe, know where they are and are in a position to make a successful reunion with mom and dad later in the run or day.

Safety first, schedule second

The temptation to not fall farther behind is great when the driving is slow due to severe weather conditions. Of course it is important for a bus driver to be on schedule, but that compliance can never come through safety shortcuts. Safe transportation is always the primary responsibility of a bus driver.

Parents trust us with the very lives of their children

Keeping kids safe is the most important job that a school district has. Every day, parents hand over their most precious possession to a complete stranger at the bus stop. Parents do this because the bus driver has earned that trust by the way they protect children every day of their professional lives. In many ways this is almost a sacred duty. How do we respond to this responsibility? The answer will take us the rest of our careers to accomplish successfully. Simply put, we have to earn that trust every single day.

We do well to always remember that ours is a noble profession. This recognition of transportation truths is a reflection of the depth and breadth of the daily lives of those of us who have chosen to call ourselves “bus people.”

The Building Blocks of a Routing Plan

Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs? Piglet number one builds his house out of straw and the wolf is able to blow it right down. Piglet number two builds his house out of wood, certainly better than straw, but the wolf is also able to blow it down. Piglet number three takes the time to build his house out of bricks, making it strong enough to withstand the dangers posed by the wolf, and thereby providing safety and security for his less thoughtful brothers. Building a quality routing plan is a lot like the lessons we learn from this story of the Three Little Pigs.

Think of the steps we use to build a quality house. First off, we determine our budget, so that we can appropriately match our design, size and materials to the amount we can afford to spend. We then enter the planning phase, drawing up a blueprint of how, where and when the parts will go together to create our new home. We identify quality materials that will complement our plan and budget. We then find builders who are able to use the materials according to the plan and within the project’s budget. We eventually move in and enter the phase of maintenance and updates to keep our house in good condition. We might even entertain the thought of a remodel or addition someday to add capacity and value to the original plan for the house.

Now compare this process to how we build a routing plan.

First off, we determine our budget, so that we can appropriately match our transportation policy to it. This will determine who is eligible for district-provided transportation, how far they might have to walk to get to a bus stop, and how many and what size buses best match the amount our district and community is able to afford. We then enter the planning phase, identifying the components of our transportation plan such as policy and service delivery models. We identify quality ingredients that match our plan and budget, specifically what kinds of transportation management solutions will best help us to create and operate a quality program. We then hire and train staff who are able to use the tools provided to deliver a quality routing plan that matches our district’s goals. The new school year starts and we shift to maintaining our routing plan, correcting problems and improving our program. We might eventually entertain the thought of an addition such as a fleet maintenance program or telematic GPS to add capacity and value to our transportation program.

A well built house provides us with shelter, comfort and security, all necessities for our wellbeing. A well managed routing plan likewise provides our transportation program with safety, service and efficiency, all critical ingredients for our district.

Thinking of your routing plan in terms of a series of building blocks is a great way to build or transition your transportation program into the kind of operation that can withstand even the biggest wolves of this world.

Happy New Year!

Summer is a busy time in transportation offices. School details are firmed up, students are identified, runs are built and assigned to routes, drivers are hired, certified, trained and assigned, parents and schools are notified, and the million details that somehow need to be done get done on time.

This summer I had the distinct pleasure of working in several transportation offices as all of the above was occurring. It has been five years since my days in the Buffalo offices and the chance to relive and continue with that excited buzz was a wonderful feeling. It is a time of phones ringing, of clerks sorting through student data, of drivers stopping in to get their paperwork in order, of directors answering never ending questions, of buses getting fixed up and ready to go, and of prep meetings being scheduled and conducted. The annual countdown to school opening is a time filled with preparation, anticipation, commitment and determination.

But all good things must end. The busy summer is over. School has started all around the country.

Many school districts start in August. School districts in my area of the Northeast generally start just after Labor Day. Charter schools are expanding the concept of the traditional 180 day school year with even earlier starts.

Binders and new sneakers have been bought. Kids have answered the inevitable questions from well-meaning relatives on their feelings about summer being over and school starting again. The AAA has conducted its annual “School’s Open, Drive Carefully” campaign and media coverage of the start of the new school year is extensive.

Even though we just described an incredibly intense period of activity, the actual start of the new school year is the time when we really settle down and get to work. When we start to do those critical day to day things that do so much to support our children’s education. When a well planned bus ride, with a professional bus driver, who shows up on time, at a well chosen bus stop, and keeps the not overly crowded bus under control on their efficiently laid out path to their on time arrival at school makes the perfect start to a child’s day. The reality of that vision is really why we can say Happy New Year.

Here is wishing you a safe and efficient transportation program for the 2014/15 school year as the wheels on your buses go ‘round and ‘round.

Tales from the Road: After Disaster, Versatrans Helped Joplin Schools Adapt to Ever-Changing Needs

I’ve told stories of client successes here on the Tyler K-12 Viewpoints blog before, but I’ve never had the opportunity to tell a story quite like this one before.

On Sunday, May 22, 2011, a tornado that, at its maximum, grew to be nearly one mile wide, struck the city of Joplin, Missouri. Nearly 25 percent of the city was destroyed by the tornado, and 75 percent of the city reported damage. Joplin Schools sustained loss and damage to several of their schools, and the high school was damaged beyond repair. The high school was relocated to a temporary facility beginning in the 2011-2012 school year.

The Joplin Schools transportation program has been using the Versatrans transportation management suite to facilitate their routing since 2004. While, of course, no technology could provide a “solution” to the effects of the tornado, Versatrans was useful to the district in responding to the disaster. They did not need to implement any specific disaster recovery software, but were able to continue using the same program they had for years, in a new way.

Take a look at this video, which tells the story of the bravery of the Joplin Schools transportation staff as they responded to the disaster, and their resiliency as they adapted to challenges during the recovery. I know I speak for everyone here at Tyler Technologies when I say that I am humbled by the knowledge that our Versatrans software played even a small role in helping Joplin in its recovery.

Leadership Is IN You

Have you ever met someone you respected from the very moment you met them? Have you ever experienced the opposite? Let’s take a moment to compare those two experiences and examine what made those situations different.

I like to think that it comes down to two key traits: authenticity and purpose.

This blog post is for everyone, not just people who manage other people. Let’s dig in…

Authenticity boils right down to being real. Being true to who you are and allowing others to actually see that. People want to know what makes you tick, what motivates you and what you are passionate about. We can all detect someone who is insincere a mile away. And contrary to what traditional thinking may dictate, being real, being vulnerable and letting people get to know the real you is perhaps the best way to establish trust. Even if they don’t like something about you, they at least know who and what they are dealing with. People who don’t know you are people who spend a lot of time making assumptions, drawing their own conclusions and that fear, uncertainty and doubt about a manager or even a coworker can have an incredibly negative effect on productivity and morale.

Why do you do what you do? Do you love your job, or are you showing up and going through the motions just so you can make it through the day and go home? Do you come to work intent on making a name for yourself and ensuring that you are viewed in a positive light by others? Alternately, are you focused on the positive impact your work has on others? Do you find joy in getting kids to school and back home safely? Are you energized when you see someone else doing a good job? Or are you focused on yourself, your day, your job, your advancement, your success? Here’s one of the greatest secrets of effective leadership, and it boils down to one word: others. If you focus on the well-being of others, that selflessness will come back to you in dividends.

This applies to everyone!
Notice that I have made no distinctions here between people who manage other people and people who work as individual contributors on a team. That’s because we all have the capacity to be leaders. That is to say, the way that we approach our jobs, and our lives in general, can have an immediate, direct impact on others, no matter what our position is.

How many times have you encountered a dysfunctional team and wondered just where they went wrong? Perhaps the poor behaviors are coming from the team manager directly. I think that more often, one of the team members is the source of the poor attitude and morale. That person just isn’t stepping up and being a leader. Of course, in those cases, I believe that the team’s manager still shares in the responsibility for the behavior of that team, because it’s the manager who is tolerating the poor behavior and negative influencers.

Now think of a highly productive team: they may have a great manager, but it’s likely that what makes that manager great is that his or her focus is on building the right team composed of people who themselves have positive leadership qualities, such as prioritizing the success over the team above their own.

Leadership is in all of us
If great leadership is about caring for others and prioritizing their needs over your own, then one could argue that great leadership is a matter of heart. What is in your heart? Are you authentically yourself? What your sense of purpose? Are you serving others or are you serving yourself? Once your heart is in the right place, leadership suddenly becomes a great deal more natural and effective, and it doesn’t matter if you are a director, a manager, a supervisor, team lead or team member. Just as sure as you have a heart, so too is leadership IN you.

Agree or disagree? Share your experience here!

Georgia District Shows How They Use Data Analytics

Recently we here at Tyler Technologies were contacted by one of our clients, Barrow County School System in Georgia, letting us know that they had done something pretty incredible. They use our data analytics program, Tyler Pulse, and they found it so useful that they decided to create their own client testimonial video talking about their positive experience with it.

We are beyond delighted with this video, firstly because we are so glad that Barrow County School System has been well-served by our products. But also because this is a great example of a district communicating about the solutions they’ve implemented and sharing their success with the community. Here on the K-12 Viewpoints Blog, we always try to keep our posts informative and useful, and we don’t focus too much on our own products. This video provides a real-world example of a district implementing a solution that works for them, and which could work for others. When we see how our peers are solving problems we can draw on that example and make a more informed decision down the road. In that way, we feel that this video will be useful to you.

You can decide for yourself, of course. The video is embedded below. Take a look!