by Galen Gruman

Wireless Standards – New Technologies Hit Mainstream

Jun 01, 20043 mins
MobileSmall and Medium Business

FedEx and UPS are the pioneers of wireless systems implementations, and the rivals continue to pursue strategic uses of the technology (see “UPS Vs. FedEx: Head-to-Head on Wireless,” Page 66). But now that the core wireless technologies such as 802.11b, Bluetooth, and general packet radio service (GPRS) are standards-based and supported by a growing list of developers, more enterprises have deployed wireless applications at lower costs?and without the heavy investment that FedEx and UPS have made over the years. The following are some examples from the transportation and distribution industries.

Old Dominion Freight Line is employing wireless systems similar to those used by UPS and FedEx. Its 2,400 drivers will use handheld terminals that capture delivery information by scanning packages and then transmit it to Old Dominion over GPRS networks. They also can alert drivers to unplanned pickups, with details on what to expect. The Thomasville, N.C., company may use the Bluetooth radio to transmit receipts to a portable printer so that their invoices can be delivered faster, which also accelerates receipt of payment, says Barry Craver, senior application development manager at Old Dominion. And 802.11b radios will let drivers automatically download delivery routes and package inventories to their handhelds overnight, enabling drivers to spend less time at package centers.

Corporate Express, a Broomfield, Colo., distributor of office supplies, has put wireless LANs into 20 of its 30 North American centers, in spaces ranging from 50,000 to 300,000 square feet. A wireless LAN “allows the ability to move around, and you have the ability to change your layout without having to rewire,” says Tim Beauchamp, senior vice president of distribution operations. Corporate Express typically gets a 30 percent return on investment from wireless applications, he says, but it got an even higher ROI from an unexpected application: a voice system from AccuCode. With that system, warehouse staff wear a headset attached to a mobile device that connects via Wi-Fi to the central server. As a worker scans a package, the server relays instructions via synthesized voice, which Beauchamp says is easier for staff to understand than peering onto a handheld’s small screen in varying light conditions. The company is now deploying wireless PDAs for mobile proof of delivery.

Japan’s NYK Logistics uses active transponders and 802.11b networks in its Port of Long Beach, Calif., shipment yards to track and route containers received from cargo ships and being transferred to trains and trucks. (See “One in a Thousand” at

Seattle-based Alaska Distributors uses code division multiple access 2000-based PDAs to gather real-time information on beverage delivery to stores throughout the Pacific Northwest, as well as to transmit new orders.

Another beverage distributor, Elyxir Distributing in Watsonville, Calif., uses GPS-enabled cell phones to track drivers’ locations and gather time-sheet information.