Bangalore: Five years back, global positioning systems (GPS) seemed an urgent necessity in India. Car makers could use the technology to ensure quicker delivery to buyers, logistics firms could keep track of their trucks, and outsourcing firms using dozens of cabs to ferry their staff could count on it for efficiency and safety.

GPS, a satellite-based navigation system originally designed by and for the US defence, was initially adopted in India by its defence forces in 2002. It was expected to be a commercial success as well for purposes like fleet tracking, navigation and surveillance.

Few takers: Meru Cab has fitted its entire fleet of 3,600 cabs in 4 cities with GPS devices sourced from suppliers in Europe and Singapore. Satish Bate / Hindustan Times

“There were predictions of 100-150% year-on-year growth, but it grew only in double digits," says Ashutosh Pande, managing director at SiRF Technology India Pvt. Ltd, which makes the chips used in GPS devices.

In 2006, Honda Siel Cars India Ltd deployed GPS devices in some of the trucks it uses to transport cars from its factory to its dealers, but that didn’t work too well. “The warranty and onsite service enroute (by the GPS application provider) and geographical coverage (by the telecom operator) is sometimes a concern," said a spokesperson for Honda Siel Cars. “There are also issues of inconsistency and reliability of data provided by (the GPS) service providers."

Faulty GPS devices and unreliable and inconsistent data results have led to several dissatisfied customers. Drivers tampering with the device and patchy telecom networks, particularly in rural areas and national highways, have only made matters worse.

“The US fleet tracking market is as large as $10 billion," says Milind Dalal, chief executive of Pune-based vehicle tracking devices firm, Tata AutoComp Mobility Telematics Ltd, a Tata group company. “(But) it has not really taken off in India."

Tata AutoComp developed a GPS application specifically for business process outsourcing (BPO) firms for tracking their cabs. “We were expecting over a hundred customers but got just 10-12," says Dalal.

Firms like Bangalore-based BPO, 24X7 Customer Pvt. Ltd, say GPS devices aren’t necessary as it’s easier to use mobile phones to coordinate with the cabs. Besides, payments are determined by the number of people transported rather than the distance covered. “We did not feel GPS was necessary," says Vinod Mudakkayil, vice-president administration, 24X7 Customer.

GPS, however, has found large-scale users in other sectors. Meru Cab Co. Pvt. Ltd, for instance, has fitted its entire fleet of 3,600 cabs in four cities with GPS devices sourced from suppliers in Europe and Singapore. “It is critical to know the exact location and status (free/busy) of each cab round the clock. Doing this job manually over cell phones would be self-limiting beyond 100-odd cabs," a Meru spokeswoman said in an email reply.

But despite the hiccups, Honda Siel Cars has not given up on the technology.

It has fitted GPS in one-third of its 650-odd trucks and will gradually deploy it in its entire fleet.

A Honda spokesperson explained: “GPS as a technology is becoming increasingly important as we are expanding our dealer network and penetrating into tier II towns."