Overnight couriers take wireless inside

It's the wireless initiatives for UPS and FedEx couriers out in the field that get most of the attention, but both companies are also cutting the cords inside their facilities. Operational workers at FedEx Express and FedEx Ground use a wireless LAN that uses both 802.11 and 802.11b short-range technology -- and speedier 802.11a may not be far behind.

Winn Stephenson, senior vice president of technology systems at FedEx Services, says 802.11 is a major reason FedEx Ground can give customers same-day proof-of-delivery data.

The wireless LAN also lets package-handlers use a new, wrist-mounted "ring scanner" that saves them the effort of angling packages toward a fixed scanner. "That's an efficiency gain, but it's also a safety gain" for workers, Stephenson says. Exemplifying the neck-and-neck competition between the shipping giants, UPS is also deploying a wireless LAN and ring scanners in its hubs in a project expected to cost more than $100 million. FedEx Ground is also pioneering the use of using radio frequency identification (RFID), which updates tracking data for every package on every truck that rolls through the gates. Gartner analyst Jeff Woods says RFID will grow "very important in supply chain management" in the next five years.

CIO Ken Lacy says UPS s "keeping an eye on" RFID, though the company wants to see prices come down on the technology before it makes a full-scale commitment. UPS's interest in RFID has manifested itself as an investment in Savi Technology Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif., supply chain company.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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