Airborne Retools Dispatch System for E-Commerce

FRAMINGHAM (04/03/2000) - Airborne Freight Corp. last week launched a major restructuring of its nationwide wireless dispatch system, equipping drivers with wireless scanners to provide the company's customers with the ability to track their shipments in real time, like competitors do.

Airborne, based in Seattle, currently dispatches its 17,500 drivers with an aging analog radio system. Drivers must use acoustic couplers connected to public telephones to upload proof-of-delivery information from bar-code scanners.

FDX Corp. in Memphis and United Parcel Service of America Inc. in Atlanta have equipped all their drivers with highly mobile digital terminals capable of operating inside buildings.

David Billings, Airborne's senior vice president of information and technology systems, said the company developed the wireless architecture to meet the time-sensitive requirements of e-commerce.

Real Time Essential

Jeff Kagan, a telecommunications industry analyst, called real-time tracking information essential to any company that wants to compete in the e-commerce world. "It's a cost of entry. Customers will not even consider a vendor that does not provide real-time tracking and accountability."

The new Airborne wireless architecture, approved by top management last week, calls for equipping drivers with new digital radios and bar-code scanners from Motorola Inc. in Schaumberg, Ill. The scanner will allow drivers to upload proof-of-delivery information at the time of delivery, said Tom Zywicki, director of systems development at Airborne.

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. According to Zywicki, Airborne is evaluating proposals from four bidders and expects to make a decision soon.

Zywicki said the company has tapped Bell South Wireless Data LP in Woodbridge, N.J., as an interim service provider in a number of key markets, including Seattle and the Washington, D.C., area. Bell South will provide airtime and equip drivers with between 5,000 and 6,000 RIM 950 terminals from Research In Motion (RIM) Inc. in Waterloo, Ontario.

Airborne didn't disclose financial details of its new wireless architecture.

But Zywicki did say 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 between roughly $3 million and $7 million.

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