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A journey through the history of telematics

Over the past 50 years, technology has developed at an unbelievable rate.

One of the first home computers, the Sinclair ZX80, was launched in 1980 and was equipped with 1 KB of static RAM and 4 KB of read-only memory[1]. To provide context, a standard smartphone has around 2,000,000 times more RAM and usually around 16,000,000 times more memory.

Priced at $531 at 2018 prices, 100,000 units of the Sinclair ZX80 were shipped. Its development was a key landmark in our progress towards a bold, digital age.

Similarly rapid change has occurred in the field of the connected car and telematics. For the uninitiated, vehicle telematics uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to triangulate the position of vehicles, and digital cellular networks to transmit a range of data from the vehicle to other software and hardware systems. That data could cover everything from location and vehicle diagnostics to driving style.

Since the launch of the world’s very first GPS satellite in 1978, development has occurred to the point where approximately 88% of new cars are expected to feature integrated telematics by 2025.[2]

Individual motorists are gaining a host of new advantages from connected car technology, helping them to benefit from greater convenience and personalise elements such as insurance, maintenance and in-car entertainment.

But the information drawn from a car, van or truck can also prove incredibly valuable for a number of core business processes, from invoicing to workflow scheduling. For example, telematics can be used to help develop truly dynamic working schedules, using up-to-date traffic data and information on historic journey times to organise jobs in a way that helps minimise time spent on the road. Adjustments to schedules can also be made according to changes in the situation out on the road, to account for delays and ensure they do not impact customers too heavily.

One of the major breakthroughs came in 1996, when US President Bill Clinton signed a directive making GPS an international utility[3], which meant it became available free-of-charge to private citizens.

The first vehicle tracking systems began to emerge in the late 1990s, using in-vehicle hardware which was connected to a local server, and was accessed by clients with locally-installed software. Historical data was retrieved from the servers and customers had to pay a fee for every single update.

Fast forward to today and fleet management systems are barely recognisable from their ancestors. For example, Webfleet – the Software-as-a-Service fleet management solution from Webfleet – helps users to take control of a range of critical business processes, including order management, mileage reporting, maintenance and routing. OptiDrive 360 even provides drivers with in-trip feedback and predictive advice on their driving style, designed to help them drive in a safer, more efficient manner. This data can also be used by managers to help reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, while improving safety standards.

We’ve come a long way!

Check out our infographic below to chart the history of telematics or read our guide to see how the technology has developed into a crucial business tool.

history of telematics




Beverley Wise
As Webfleet Regional Director UKI for Bridgestone Mobility Solutions, Beverley Wise has more than 20 years of experience in the automotive industry, primarily within the leasing sector. She firmly believes that being a decisive leader is key to delivering great success. She likes to innovate with her mantra of "Ask for forgiveness, not permission," helping to move businesses forward. She has a strong work ethic and strives to be the best she can be, which she likes to instil into teams she manages, being fair but firm with a high degree of empathy. Beverley has been with Webfleet overseeing UKI sales for six years, where she has seen several changes. She is passionate about the future of the automotive industry, believing that the transition to electric or alternative-fuelled vehicles is a real game changer.

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