UPS moving to install wireless LANs at all delivery hubs

United Parcel Service of America Inc. plans by mid-2002 to install advanced wireless LANs and next-generation scanners at all 2,000 of its package-delivery hubs and sorting facilities, in a project that analysts describe as one of the largest deployments of such technology by a single user to date.

David Salzman, a program manager in the information services department at Atlanta-based UPS, said the company expects to issue a request for bids on the wireless LAN system by the end of this year. He declined to provide cost details, but industry sources estimated that the total cost for the wireless LAN access points and embedded radio-frequency capabilities in the scanners -- but not the scanners themselves -- could run between $25 million and $30 million.

The disclosure of the UPS project plans follows a Monday announcement by FedEx Corp.'s FedEx Ground subsidiary, which plans to install wireless LANs at its 369 delivery hubs by next September as part of an $80 million project to use wireless technology throughout its operations (see story).

Currently, UPS uses older-generation wireless scanners and LANs in about 250 of its hubs and sorting facilities. The company has "found a big business benefit" from the wireless technology and decided to make its use ubiquitous, Salzman said. For example, employees in UPS sorting facilities equipped with wireless LANs can use them to scan bar codes on packages, helping them to quickly rout the items to their destinations.

Navin Sabaharwal, an analyst at Allied Business Intelligence in Oyster Bay, N.Y., said the UPS wireless project is potentially "one of the biggest contracts I've seen for a vertical [wireless] application."

Donald Carros, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc., agreed, calling the UPS plans a "big deal." UPS wants to deploy advanced wireless LAN technology and scanners because the company's managers "see the obvious competitive advantage" it could give them in terms of more efficiently moving packages to customers.

Salzman said UPS also is considering using the wireless technology to transfer data from drivers' computers, such as digital signature files, once trucks return from their routes.

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