Fedex takes 2.5G step in search of cash savings

Next generation General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) technology, dubbed 2.5G, will enable the logistics giant Fedex to save money...

Next generation General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) technology, dubbed 2.5G, will enable the logistics giant Fedex to save money on telecoms bills if early testing is satisfactory.

The wireless network technology, which became available in the UK earlier this year, will also allow Fedex to use common applications worldwide, and provide a richer range of functions to end-users.

Fedex is testing GPRS mobile technology for its European workforce of couriers as part of a global adoption of the next generation in mobile technology.

GPRS offers Internet protocol-based packet transmission at a much higher bandwidth than the currently predominant GSM (global system for mobile communications) transmission technology.

Such networks are only now beginning to be widely available and the Fedex implementation is among the first to be carried out on a large scale for a mission-critical application in the UK.

Walter Abercrombie, vice-president of information technology for Fedex's Europe, Middle East and Africa arm, said, "Having a standard like GPRS is key to our ability to have a common wireless system worldwide, where before we had to customise our solutions to fit the availability and type of network."

The company will put its new Powerpad wireless courier device through limited tests in Europe, where it will use GPRS to communicate with Fedex's core Cosmos system, which holds tracking, tracing, dispatching, and quotation information and is also accessible to key customers.

Fedex's mobile workforce uses its Supertracker short message service (SMS) device at present to communicate locations for parcel status tracking and for receiving dispatch instructions from customers.

It is replacing it with a new courier device - the Powerpad - which is a multi-function personal digital assistant which can receive pick-up instructions, scan packets at pick-up, send delivery information, store proof of delivery and transmit via infrared, Bluetooth or GPRS.

Abercrombie said, "GPRS technology and its inherent price structure, is significantly better than the first generation wireless wide area technology currently being used in the industry.

"We see a real opportunity to extend capabilities using GPRS, not only from a cost standpoint but to provide the mobile worker with more value-added functions than were previously [possible] using SMS and Wap [wireless application protocol]."

Being packet-based, the user pays only for information downloaded rather than the time the circuit is open - as with GSM - giving a potential for savings. Increased bandwidth allows for richer screens to be served more easily than with Wap.

David Birch, director of mobile technology specialists Consult Hyperion, said, "Because GPRS is always-on you pay less because you are only charged for the packets you receive.

"This will also give businesses the chance to build applications and learn about new ways of working which will give them useful experience as we move towards 3G," he added.

Fedex has plans to roll out the technology to 2,000 employees in Europe. The move follows Fedex's deal with AT&T earlier this year to provide its 40,000 US couriers with the technology.

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