FedEx, UPS Vie to Offer Wireless Tracking Services

Carriers race to provide online informationfrom any device, anywhere in the world

United Parcel Service of America Inc. and Federal Express Corp. have extended their competition to the wireless arena, as they vie to provide wireless access to Web-based tracking information from any device, anywhere in the world.

Analysts said the rush to offer wireless access to information is part of the companies' efforts to encourage customers to obtain tracking information through Web sites rather than phone inquiries.

The goal is to provide easy, shipper-controlled access to real-time information and to save money in the process.

Two weeks ago, Atlanta-based UPS said it will provide domestic customers with the ability to track shipments via any wireless device, including pagers and cell phones, starting this September. It plans to extend the service worldwide by the first quarter of next year.

Air2Web Inc., a wireless application service provider in Atlanta, will supply UPS with the enabling software. A spokeswoman for Air2Web 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.

In January, UPS began offering limited wireless tracking, available only to users of Palm VII personal digital assistants.

In October, Memphis-based FedEx launched a similar wireless tracking service for its customers worldwide who use Palm Inc. PDAs and devices powered by Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE operating system. FedEx extended wireless tracking capability to users of Web-enabled phones manufactured by Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola Inc. in April.

A UPS spokeswoman said extending wireless tracking capability to multiple devices was "much more complex" and took more time than developing the interface for the Palm VIIs.

"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 FedEx's Web site.

Laurie Tucker, senior vice president for global product marketing at FedEx, said use of the wireless tracking software, available to the company's customers worldwide has steadily increased. She said there were 50,000 downloads in the first quarter after introduction. "I would not be surprised if we had exceeded 100,000 downloads through March of this year," Tucker said.

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

Alan Reiter, an analyst at Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing in Chevy Chase, Md., called the carriers' move to wireless "a logical extension of obvious benefits" the companies and their customers derive from wired Web access.

While wireless Web-service is still in its infancy, Tom Scannell, a Quincy, Mass.-based analyst at Mobile Insights, said the carriers are laying the groundwork for the future. "They are looking down the road to the day when everyone will be pervasively connected," Scannell said.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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