Wireless Tracking Sets Sail

FRAMINGHAM (04/10/2000) - American President Lines Inc. (APL), which pioneered Web-based tracking of ship containers in 1996, has extended that tracking capability to customers carrying data-capable cellular telephones.

The new wireless service lets customers use cell phone keypads to enter a container number or bill-of-lading number into APL's wireless Web site. That pulls up information about when the shipment left its origin port, arrived at its destination port or made other stops along the way - all displayed on the phone's screen.

APL in Oakland, California, also offers its QuickTrace container-tracking service to customers who use Palm VII wireless personal digital assistants from Palm Inc.

The fifth-largest ocean transportation firm kicked off a pilot of the wireless service this month, driven in part by the widespread use of Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) cell phones in Europe and Asia.

Allowing customers to check a shipment's status when they're traveling "offers new flexibility in controlling the global supply chain," said Hans Hickler, APL's senior vice president for information strategy and customer support.

In Europe and Asia, wireless access to information has already become more popular than access from PCs, said Hickler, who's based in Singapore. "The Americas will not be far behind," he added.

Broadband, third-generation wireless services will push even more demand for untethered access to time-critical information, Hickler said. "We are expecting that more than 525 million Internet-ready wireless devices will be shipped in the next three years," he said.

The next-generation wireless systems will let APL customers do more of their business from mobile access devices rather than from the company's wired Web site, he said.

Tim Scannell, an analyst at Mobile Insights Inc. in Quincy, Massachusetts., said he agreed. "While WAP phones are an interesting technological demonstration of all sorts of data you can get over a cell phone, it's only a beginning. Wireless technology has a long way to go, just like when PCs first came out," he said.

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