Brown Turns to Bluetooth in $120 Million WLAN Deployment

By Vikki Lipset

January 06, 2003

UPS plans to equip package handlers with Bluetooth scanners and Wi-Fi devices in 1,700 hubs around the world.

In one of the largest such deployments to date, the United Parcel Service plans to roll out Bluetooth and Wi-Fi equipment to 1,700 worldwide locations beginning in June.

As part of the five-year, $120 million project, UPS will equip 55,000 package handlers with Bluetooth scanner rings. The rings capture tracking data from package labels and then wirelessly transmit that data to an 802.11b terminal worn on the handler's waist. The terminal then sends the data to a central computer.

The system, called UPScan, is already being tested in Buffalo, NY, Hialeah, FL, Parsippany, NJ, and Hamilton, Ontario. Donna Barrett, a UPS spokesperson, said she expects the deployment to be completed in 2004. UPS said this will be the largest wireless LAN deployment in the world.

The Atlanta-based shipping company already uses Wi-Fi terminals and scanner rings, but the two are connected by a cable that frequently breaks, said Barrett. UPS estimates that the introduction of the Bluetooth scanners, which eliminate the need for the cable, will reduce repair costs by 30 percent.

The Wi-Fi terminals have also been updated. Unlike the old devices, which Barrett likened to "an oversized calculator strapped to the forearm" of the package handler, the new, smaller terminals can be worn on the waist.

The new hardware, which is manufactured by Symbol Technologies, should make loaders more mobile, Barrett said. In addition, using Bluetooth technology allowed UPS to double the battery life of the devices. "We expect to see a lot of increase in productivity," she said.

According to UPS, the project is the first to use devices that incorporate both Bluetooth and 802.11 technology. Joyce Putscher, an analyst and director at research firm In-Stat/MDR, said she expects to see more companies roll out such complementary systems in the future.

"Going forward you'll see more deployments of solutions that capitalize on both technologies to solve companies' issues with getting data where they need it in the most efficient manner," she said.

One of the concerns with such systems is whether the two technologies can peacefully coexist. Since Bluetooth and 802.11b share the same 2.4Ghz frequency band, there is a potential for interference.

UPS said it worked around interference issues by implementing a time-division multiple access scheme. Barrett said the time division works as a wireless "traffic cop" to instruct the Bluetooth scanners and Wi-Fi terminals on when to send their respective data.

Putscher said interference should be less of a problem in the future since several companies, including Silicon Wave and Intersil, are working on coexistence solutions that enable simultaneous operation of both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

UPS plans to eventually transmit data to 15,000 access points in 1,700 hubs.

Reprinted from Thinkmobile.

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