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UPS Steps Up Global Wireless Networking
UPS Steps Up Global Wireless Networking

UPS, one of the world's largest wireless users, continues to expand its wireless capabilities with the deployment this year of a Bluetooth-Wi-Fi scanning application in 1,700 facilities worldwide.

As a wireless technology pioneer and one of the largest wireless users in the world, it is no surprise that UPS has assumed a leadership role in global wireless networking. On a normal business day, the company transmits approximately 3 million packets of package-tracking data alone via its global wireless network.

Today, the company is embarking on the most ambitious, leading-edge connectivity project ever undertaken in the shipping industry. When completed, UPS expects to speed up package processing, dramatically reduce repair costs in its hubs, and reduce wireless wide-area communication costs, particularly in the United States.

The development and implementation of technology within a large enterprise like UPS is not done in a vacuum. Business drives technology at UPS. Therefore, understanding the business requirements of the past is critical to anticipating the needs of the future. Here's how wireless communications got started at UPS.

Wireless Communications:
the Backbone of Full-Visibility Package Tracking

In 1985, UPS deployed its first scanning application as part of its package tracking efforts. At that time, packages were scanned only at the origination and destination ends of the shipping process; consequently, only a handheld scanner was needed.

In 1991, UPS revolutionized the industry with the Delivery Information Acquisition Device (DIAD I). The DIAD I was a tablet-PC-like device that automated a number of business processes. For example, it contained programmed route and time-card information for the driver. It could scan bar codes on packages and also capture digital signatures from package recipients. When the driver returned to the UPS center at the end of a workday, the captured information was uploaded to a database located on the company's mainframe(s). This information was used to track packages for customers.

The second-generation DIAD was introduced in 1993. It transmitted delivery information in real time through an in-vehicle cellular service. Smaller and lighter, it served as a conduit for two-way communication between the driver and UPS. DIAD II also contained 100% more memory (1.5Mb) than the original DIAD and featured a back-lit display.

The DIAD II communicated via a wireless network of 100 cellular carriers brought together by UPS to provide nationwide communication ser-vices to the company, making UPS the world's largest cellular user in 1993. The package information uploads performed over the cellular network became accessible via the World Wide Web in May 1995 when UPS enabled customers to track their packages directly on the Internet.

By 1996, UPS had adopted the first wearable scanner in its hub facilities in order to facilitate full-visibility tracking to its customers. This enabled customers to log on to the Internet, contact UPS via phone or e-mail, and know exactly where their package was in the global UPS network. Today, UPS receives 7.9 million tracking requests per business day via its award-winning Web site, ups.com.

Scanning a customer's package at multiple points during the shipping process was necessary in order to provide full-visibility tracking. Ring scanners worn by loaders in UPS hub facilities ensured that packages could be tracked end-to-end in the UPS package network. These ring scanners were attached via a short cable to a wireless terminal attached to a loader's forearm. The terminals communicated via radio frequency technology with computer servers colocated in UPS hubs.

By 1999, UPS was on the third generation of the DIAD. DIAD III, still in use today by UPS drivers throughout the world, enables two-way communication away from the vehicle. It was the first device in the industry to both capture and transmit real-time delivery information. DIAD III gives a driver three ways to transmit information in real time:

  • Internal packet data radio
  • In-vehicle cellular service
  • Built-in acoustic modem for traditional telephone transmission

    The global keyboard on the DIAD III glows in the dark and its modular architecture enables easy upgrading of individual components. It features a faster processor than its older siblings, with memory capacity more than four times (6.5Mb) that of the DIAD II.

    Today, approximately 70,000 DIADs are used daily by UPS drivers throughout the world. The pioneering technology is the core of the company's wireless strategy and has become an integral part of how the company conducts business.

    Part of what makes the DIAD such a powerful tool is the system - ODS (On-Demand Services) - that enables communication with the driver.

    Every driver automatically logs into the ODS system first thing in the morning. This allows dispatchers and center management to access the driver via his/her DIAD throughout the day by sending generalized text messages. Virtually all drivers start their day with a list of predefined customer pickup locations for that day. Thanks to ODS, the addition of a one-time pickup stop can be added to a driver's work list, enabling UPS to take advantage of the geographic location of its entire fleet for servicing pickup requests.

    The STeP Project
    By 2000, UPS knew that 20% of its wireless devices would need to be replaced every year due to wear and tear. UPS saw an opportunity for technological innovation. The proper technology strategy could accomplish the following objectives:

    • Migrate technology
    • Leverage standards
    • Incorporate less expensive technology
    • Ensure hardware availability
    • Eliminate multiple systems
    • Improve data integrity
    As a result, UPS began an ambitious project (known internally as the STeP Project) involving the migration of all of the wireless terminals used in the company's package pickup, sorting, transportation, and delivery to a standard platform.

    The UPS Standard Terminal Platform (STeP) project will replace up to 200,000 terminals now in use with devices that improve operational efficiencies. To realize the full operational efficiency gains and cost reductions of the plan, UPS is testing and deploying a global wireless connectivity solution consisting of the following:

  • A standard terminal and scanner platform that includes a common operating system (embedded Microsoft Windows CE)
  • Development environment (Visual Studio)
  • Local area network (Ethernet)
  • Wireless local area network (802.11b)
  • Wireless personal area network (Bluetooth)
  • Wireless wide area network communications (GSM, GPRS, and/or CDMA)

    UPScan
    Deployment of the wireless scanner and portable terminal will begin this year. The cordless, Bluetooth-enabled scanner and 802.11b terminal equipment were developed for a new in-building scanning application, known as UPScan, which consolidates and enhances UPS in-transit package tracking systems worldwide.

    The wireless ring scanner worn on a loader's hand captures data from a package bar code and communicates it via Bluetooth to the terminal worn on the loader's waist. The terminal transmits the scanned package tracking data to a local server using 802.11b.

    UPScan features one of the first devices to incorporate both Bluetooth and 802.11b wireless protocols. UPS's application of Bluetooth (802.15) and 802.11b is leading-edge since both standards operate in the 2.4GHz spectrum. UPS has accomplished this coexistence by implementing a time-division multiple access scheme, exploiting 802.11b's clear-to-send feature to silence (periodically) 802.11b radios, and by synchronizing the terminal's Bluetooth master to the terminal's 802.11b radio.

    Security concerns were overcome during the testing phase through the use of wireless encryption. The terminal includes flash memory so that the encryption technology can be upgraded as required. In addition, the flash memory is used to capture and ensure storage of the scanned data.

    Elimination of the cables that connect scanners, workstations, and handhelds is expected to not only speed processing, but to reduce repair costs by 30% and spare equipment costs by 35%. Given that there are approximately 55,000 wearable scanning devices in use at 1,700 facilities worldwide, the cost savings will be significant. In addition, the elimination of cable repairs, etc., will increase uptime by an estimated 35%.

    The new Bluetooth scanner features a battery with twice the life span of the old ring scanner. The Bluetooth battery lasts for six hours - more than enough time to get a loader through a standard five-hour shift. Productivity is increased since the loader doesn't have to replace the battery in the middle of his/her shift. In addition, eliminating the cable and shifting the wireless terminal from the loader's forearm to his/her waist have increased the loader's mobility. As a result, the scans-per-minute goal with the wireless equipment is 60 scans - an increase in productivity. Even a slight productivity gain becomes meaningful across multiple shifts and thousands of employees.

    When deployment is completed in 2004, UPScan will reside in 1,700 hubs with more than 9,000 access points, making it one of the world's largest wireless LANs. The project continues the company's commitment to centralizing and standardizing technology. To reduce costs and encourage system interoperability, UPS is avoiding customization as much as possible, using "off-the-shelf" technology components whenever possible.

    Wireless Worldwide
    UPS has long been one of the largest cellular network users in the world. As stated previously, the company integrated the services of 100 disparate analog carriers in 1993 to form a nationwide wireless network for its DIAD-equipped drivers. This network is still in place today.

    Since 1993, UPS has continued its pioneering efforts, utilizing wireless data WANs in North America, Europe, and Asia. Today, the company has begun implementing the next phase of its global wireless WAN strategy, which encompasses Global Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA).

    By early December 2002, UPS had deployed 11,500 GPRS-enabled DIAD IIIs throughout Europe. In December 2001, UPS began testing with GPRS and CDMA carriers in the United States. Since nationwide coverage is the company's primary concern in the United States, UPS eventually plans to deploy both GPRS and CDMA DIADs to ensure comprehensive coverage. UPS deployed 200 GPRS DIADs in 2002 and will continue the deployment in 2003.

    In November 2002, UPS launched its SMS (Short Message Service) Tracking Service in eight Asian countries, enabling customers to track their package delivery status anytime, anywhere with their mobile phones. The service features a local dial-in number for each country for speedier access and to help customers save on dial-up charges.

    UPS also provides a free WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) service that enables customers in the United States, Canada, and Asia to track their packages on the UPS wireless Web site using a Web-enabled mobile phone. Or, if customers prefer, they can access tracking information via their PDAs or pagers. (For more information on UPS Wireless Solutions, visit www.ups.com.)

    Now and in the Future
    As customer needs are evolving to encompass the three flows of commerce - goods, funds, and information - UPS is expanding its wireless technology strategy to meet them.

    To ensure maximum flexibility in field-transmission capabilities, the fourth generation of the DIAD is now being developed to include multiple wireless connectivity options.

    The company continuously monitors existing and emerging wireless technology to determine how and if it can be effectively integrated into business processes to improve operating efficiencies, reduce costs, or provide new and/or enhanced services to customers.

    To assist in this effort, the UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund monitors and evaluates technologies such as biometrics, radio frequency ID tags, and other emerging technologies that may enable UPS to provide new or enhanced services to its customers. When a viable technology that meets certain criteria is identified, UPS's Strategic Enterprise Fund may invest in it.

    Like any successful company, UPS knows that it must keep close tabs on technology as it constantly changes. Who knows? Since accepting digital signatures is old hat for the DIAD, perhaps future versions will accept credit card payments! While technology is ever-changing, the primary reason to implement it at UPS has not altered since the company's inception in 1907. At UPS, the direction of technology initiatives will always be driven by the needs of customers.

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