UPS to launch device-independent wireless tracking service

Service will be offered domestically in September, globally in first quarter of next year

United Parcel Service of America Inc. yesterday announced that in September it will provide domestic customers with the ability to track shipments via any wireless device, including pagers and cell phones. Atlanta-based UPS plans to extend the service to all its customers worldwide by the first quarter of next year.

UPS has offered wireless tracking capability to users of Palm VII personal digital assistants since January. Federal Express Corp. in Memphis launched a similar wireless tracking service in October 1999 for its customers worldwide who use Palm Inc. personal digital assistants and Microsoft Corp. Windows CE-based devices. In April, FedEx extended wireless tracking capability to customers worldwide who use Web-enabled phones manufactured by Schaumberg, Ill. based Motorola Inc.

Air2Web Inc. in Atlanta, a wireless application service provider, will provide UPS with the enabling software. An Air2Web spokeswoman said the software will allow customers to track shipments as well as determine time-in-transit.

The new service will also allow wireless customers to calculate the cost of shipments and determine the location of the nearest UPS drop box.

A UPS spokeswoman said extending wireless tracking capability to multiple devices is "much more complex" and has taken longer to develop than the interface for the Palm VII.

"We had to deal with multiple devices, different screen sizes and different protocols," she said.

AvantGo Inc., a wireless application service provider in San Mateo, Calif., provides FedEx with its wireless tracking software, downloadable from the FedEx Web site.

Laurie Tucker, senior vice president for global product marketing at FedEx, said worldwide use of the wireless tracking software has steadily increased since its introduction, with 50,000 downloads in the first quarter that it was available.

"I would not be surprised if we had exceeded 100,000 downloads through March of this year," she said.

A FedEx spokeswoman said AvantGo is working to support wireless access via cell phones from other manufacturers and by pagers, but she was unable to provide a date of availability.

Tucker said Federal Express intends "to move as much of our data as possible to the wireless environment," to meet customer demands for "instant information, which is clearly moving towards wireless."

Tom Scannell, an analyst at Mobile Insights Inc. in Quincy, Mass., agreed, noting that the carriers are rolling out systems needed to handle increased use of wireless devices.

"They are looking down the road to the day when everyone will be pervasively connected," Scannell said.

A spokesman for Airborne Express Inc. in Seattle couldn't immediately detail the company's wireless tracking plans.

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