FedEx To Use AT&T's GPRS Network

Couriers will be able to access real-time shipping data via high-speed data network.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 19, 2002

2 Min Read

FedEx Express, a unit of FedEx Corp., will integrate AT&T Wireless' General Packet Radio Service network into its private wireless network. The integration will give FedEx couriers access to a greater range of wireless coverage and the ability to send and retrieve real-time shipping data to and from FedEx's customer operating systems.

While the financial terms of the five-year deal were not disclosed, FedEx execs say using the AT&T GPRS network would save money in the long run compared with maintaining the private network FedEx built 20 years ago. "The costs of GPRS networks are coming in line with what we historically have with our private infrastructure," says Robert Ford, manager of wireless systems development for FedEx services. "That makes the move to commercial services attractive."

FedEx says the GPRS network will complement its existing private network. "We will continue to maintain the private network where the public network doesn't cover," says Ken Pasley, director of wireless systems development for FedEx services. But, he adds, "over time we may find it's cost effective to replace" the private network.

AT&T Wireless plans to deploy its GPRS network by December. FedEx is testing a new PowerPad portable wireless device for its couriers to use when the high-speed data network is operational. Today, couriers can track and scan package data into the SuperTracker, a handheld bar-code scanner. But they have to return to their vans to upload data from the scanner to a radio device that communicates with FedEx operating systems to get information such as shipping rates and mailing restrictions.

Using the new PowerPad, which incorporates Bluetooth wireless technology, couriers would be able to instantly retrieve and send shipping data to the FedEx operating system, without having to return to the van. FedEx also plans to equip its couriers with Bluetooth-enabled portable printers to print shipping labels, and with smart phones to upload data to the wireless area network, Pasley says. "If Bluetooth unfolds and more people use it, we anticipate we could communicate with a customer's printer that's enabled with Bluetooth to print a bill of lading or shipping label on the customer's printer," he says.

The contract with AT&T Wireless is for U.S. coverage and is not exclusive. AMR Research analyst Gerald McNerney says the deal is likely to give FedEx "quite a considerable amount of bandwidth," which is important to FedEx and its global customers. The logistics industry hasn't invested much in wireless technology in the past, McNerney says, but that's starting to change as advances are made and prices have begun to fall.

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