UPS Readies Wireless Upgrade in U.S.

50,000 drivers to get new info terminals

Los Angeles—United Parcel Service Inc. will deploy higher-speed wireless services to its U.S. delivery fleet this year, starting with retrofitting 4,500 driver data terminals with modems that support AT&T Wireless Services Inc.'s General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) network.

The retrofitting move is a large-scale test of the GPRS mobile data service that will be followed by a rollout of new terminals to UPS's 50,000-plus drivers in the U.S. Tamara Schwartz, the company's director of global network services, said at a wireless IT conference held here last week by Gartner Inc. that UPS next month will detail its plans for deploying the more advanced information terminals.

Schwartz wouldn't disclose any specifics about the new terminals, which will be made by Holtsville, N.Y.-based Symbol Technologies Inc. But a spokeswoman for Atlanta-based UPS said the terminals will be equipped with GPRS modems or with ones that support the rival Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) wireless network technology.

Improved Throughput

For UPS drivers, the rollout should mean much better data throughput. For example, the AT&T Wireless network supports data transmission rates of up to 40K bit/sec., compared with a speed of about 9.6K bit/sec. for the network services provided by Reston, Va.-based Motient Corp. that are now used in the U.S.

The planned U.S. project follows a deployment last year of GPRS-enabled terminals to 15,000 UPS drivers in Europe, where the company uses wireless network services provided by the T-Mobile division of Deutsche Telekom AG in Bonn. T-Mobile's GPRS network runs at 20K to 40K bit/sec. and replaced a 9.6K bit/sec. Mobitex network also operated by T-Mobile.

Schwartz said the higher data rates have helped UPS better manage "on-demand" delivery services in Europe, where drivers typically respond to requests for pickups instead of making scheduled stops as they do in the U.S.

UPS and Memphis-based rival FedEx Corp. both said last July that they planned to standardize their global wide-area wireless architectures on GPRS technology wherever it's available. But the two companies also acknowledged that they would have to use other wireless standards in some locations [<a href="http://www.computerworld.com/q?31154">QuickLink 31154</a>].

At last week's conference, Schwartz said that's still part of the plan at UPS. The company will rely on CDMA networks that are operated by carriers such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS Group to augment GPRS in the U.S., because Redmond, Wash.-based AT&T Wireless doesn't provide coverage in all parts of the country, she said.

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said UPS has no choice but to go with both GPRS and CDMA in the U.S. In contrast, European countries offer companies GPRS as a single wireless standard, he noted.

The AT&T Wireless GPRS network will be tested at package-delivery hubs with more than 60 drivers, UPS said.

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UPS's Wireless IT Strategy

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Equip 70,000 drivers worldwide with wide-area wireless services.

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Equip 4,500 driver terminals in the U.S. with GPRS modems as a test and then roll out new terminals to all of its U.S. drivers.

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Use a combination of GPRS and CDMA networks to provide full wireless coverage in the U.S.

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Start a U.S. rollout this year of a bar-code sorting system based on 802.11b wireless LAN and Bluetooth technology.

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Finish the bar-code sorting installation here next year and start a rollout to operations in the rest of the world in 2005.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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