Airborn Freight Dispatches Wireless Architecture

FRAMINGHAM (03/29/2000) - Airborne Freight Corp. has launched a major restructuring of its nationwide wireless dispatch and delivery information system that will provide the company's 17,500 drivers with the latest in mobile digital data technology within three years.

Seattle-based Airborne currently dispatches its drivers using an aging analog radio system. In fact, the system is so outdated that drivers must use acoustic couplers connected to public telephones to upload proof-of-delivery information from bar code scanners.

Airborne's primary rivals - Federal Express Corp. in Memphis and United Parcel Service of America Inc. in Atlanta - have equipped all of their respective drivers with mobile digital terminals capable of operating inside buildings.

Tom Zywicki, director of systems development at Airborne, admits that "the other guys are way ahead of us," in terms of their use of wireless technology, a situation the company's new network was designed to rectify.

Airborne declined to disclose how much money the company is investing in its new wireless architecture. But Zywicki did say that the company is looking at "airtime costs of between $15 and $35 per driver, per month.'' That would put the annual airtime costs of the new network at roughly $3 million to $7 million per year.

The new Airborne wireless architecture, approved by top management last week, calls for equipping all of the company's drivers with a new digital radio and bar code scanner from Motorola Inc. that will let drivers upload proof-of-delivery information "at time of delivery. This will provide customers with much better tracking information," Zywicki said.

Airborne also plans to shift its wireless network - which currently uses a pastiche of company-owned and leased circuits - to a new system leased from two nationwide carriers. Zywicki said Airborne is evaluating proposals from four bidders and expects to make a decision soon.

The four companies competing for the Airborne nationwide wireless network are:

AT&T Wireless, Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems, BellSouth Wireless Data L.P. and Nextel Inc.

Until Airborne completely rolls out its new wireless architecture, Zywicki said the company has tapped BellSouth Wireless Data as an interim service provider in a number of key markets, including Seattle, the Washington metropolitan area, south Florida and parts of New York. BellSouth will provide airtime and will equip drivers with 5,000 to 6,000 two-way BlackBerry terminals from Research In Motion Ltd. in Waterloo, Ontario.

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