FedEx Ground Steps to Bluetooth and GPRS Wireless

Updated: Not to be confused with FedEx Express, FedEx's Ground division already uses wireless RFID for asset tracking too-but officials are taking a wait-and-see approach to other RFID possibilities.

As competition grows hotter in package delivery, Federal Express Ground, a division of FedEx Corp., is cooking up some new technologies. The delivery people who drop by your door are swapping out their old handheld scanners for new Bluetooth-capable PocketPC models. Meanwhile, the Ground division is adding more CCD scanning, while mulling a possible expansion on the RFID support already in place.

The handheld upgrade will be particularly dramatic for FedEx Home, a unit of FedEx Ground specializing in business-to-consumer (B2C) shipments such as mail order. The Home crew has toted DOS-based scanners up to now, with black-and-white screens.

"Think about your 1999 laptop, in contrast to a 2005 model. Thats the kind of difference these guys are starting to see," said Roman Hlutkowsky, FedEx Grounds vice president of operations technology and systems support, in an interview with

FedEx Ground is not to be confused with FedExs "Express" Division or with FedEx Freight. FedEx Ground and FedEx Express each deliver packages of up to 150 pounds to both businesses and consumers. Anything heftier than that—up to shipments of tens of thousands of pounds—gets handled by a third division, FedEx Freight.

What are the key differences between FedExs Express and Ground divisions? Rates are lower for FedEx Ground. But, as its name implies, transport is by truck, not plane. Also, the Ground division is geared to shipments a tad less time-sensitive. "Well guarantee a day—two- or three-day delivery, for instance. But we wont guarantee a time of day," Hlutkowsky said.

New Star III Scanners from Handheld Products are already being deployed among FedEx Home contractors. Starting in about March of 2005, the division will enable the units with wireless wide area network (WWAN) capabilities, according to the vice president.

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Instead of doing batch uploads of delivery records at the end of each day, over phone lines, home contractors will transmit from their trucks in real time. "Well start out with Mobitex, and migrate from there to GPRS," Hlutkowsky said.

FedEx Ground contractors who dont work for FedEx Home specialize instead on the business-to-business (B2B) side. Outfitted with Star II handheld scanners, this group is already performing in-vehicle communications over Mobitex. Data from the Star II can be posted to within 30 minutes.

The B2B contractors have also been using the Star IIs built-in Wi-Fi for transmitting manifests while loading their trucks.

In January, though, the B2B shippers will step to Star III, a model that also replaces previous Wi-Fi radio frequency (RF) hopping capabilities with support for speedier 802.11b wireless.

Next Page: Exploiting Bluetooth.