UPS, FedEx Pick Euro Standard

Package carriers snub U.S. wireless approach

Ignoring the CDMA standard being pushed by U.S. vendors, two giant U.S. package carriers have adopted a European-developed approach for new global wireless services.

United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp., wireless pioneers and two of the largest users of mobile wireless data services, have both decided to standardize globally on IP-based General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), the next-generation version of the European Global System for Mobile Communications (GMS) standard, to support their pickup, delivery and package-tracking operations worldwide.

Susan Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for UPS, said the Atlanta-based company intends to standardize its mobile wireless tracking architecture on GPRS wherever it's available because the company believes standardization will "minimize our wireless communications costs and expand value-added services to our customers."

UPS intends to deploy GPRS service in the U.S., but Rosenberg didn't say when.

Memphis-based FedEx signed a five-year deal with AT&T Wireless Services Inc. in March to provide GPRS service for its 40,000 U.S.-based couriers. Ken Pasley, FedEx's director of wireless systems development, said in an interview last week that his company is planning to roll out GPRS globally and is testing the technology in Europe.

"That's why we selected AT&T Wireless, because they have a global presence with wireless GPRS and GSM, and that allows us to have a single technology worldwide," he said.

However, Pasley added that FedEx might have to use other standards in areas not covered by GPRS, such as Qualcomm Inc.'s Code Division Multiple Access 1X (CDMA 1X) standard. Both Sprint PCS Group and Verizon Wireless use CDMA.

Last week, Motient Corp. in Reston, Va., said UPS had renewed a contract for Motient's non-IP-based mobile systems for 57,000-plus UPS drivers in the U.S. Rosenberg said comparing the renewal of the Motient contract with UPS GPRS plans in the U.S. "is like comparing apples and oranges."

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said that even as UPS moves forward with its GPRS plans in the U.S., the company will continue to use Motient to supplement GPRS in areas not served by the new, higher-speed technology.

UPS retrofitted 6,300 handheld devices used by its German drivers with GPRS modems this May and expects to have 11,000 GPRS handhelds in use in Western Europe by year's end, Rosenberg said.

UPS has already started to reap benefits from its GPRS network in Germany, which is provided by the T-Mobile International AG division of Bonn-based Deutsche Telekom AG, Rosenberg said, citing faster transmission times. In the future, the network will also support voice as well as data, global roaming, video telephony and real-time emergency services, she added.

Craig Mathias, an analyst at Farpoint Group in Ashland, Mass., said that for large companies such as FedEx and UPS, standardizing on GPRS is "intuitively the right thing to do. It will simplify their business."

For companies without such a global presence, standardization isn't as much of an issue, Mathias added. But, he said, U.S. GSM/GPRS carriers such as Redmond, Wash.-based AT&T Wireless, Atlanta-based Cingular Wireless and Bellevue, Wash.-based VoiceStream Wireless Corp. (which is owned by Deutsche Telekom) will use FedEx and UPS as prime examples of why multinational companies should opt for an international standard.

A spokeswoman for San Diego-based Qualcomm had no comment.

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Wireless Fight: GPRS vs. CDMA

GPRS, a European standard

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20K to 40K bit/sec. data rate

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Up to 150K bit/sec. within one to two years

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U.S. carriers include AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless and VoiceStream Wireless

CDMA 1x, pushed in the U.S.

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50K to 70K bit/sec. rate today

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60K to 80K bit/sec. data rate by January 2003

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U.S. carriers include Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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