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For a peek at the future of wireless applications, take a look at the technology behind the familiar brown United Parcel Service Inc. delivery trucks. The $37 billion-a-year package-delivery company is building one of the largest Wi-Fi networks in the world, which, when finished next year, will constitute 15,000 wireless-access points at 1,700 warehouse facilities around the globe.

Package loaders working in some UPS facilities wear Bluetooth-enabled "rings" on their hands that scan delivery information from package labels as they load and unload trucks. Scanned information is transmitted to wireless terminals strapped to their belts. Those terminals are armed with 802.11 wireless connections, which send information to a server. From there, package information is transmitted to UPS's wireline network and back-end systems. UPS has deployed the technology in about 500 facilities throughout the United States and Europe.

"Whenever we see business value in wireless technology, we'll strongly consider its adoption," says John Killeen, director of global network systems for UPS. That kind of connectivity is required because UPS, on an average day, delivers about 14 million packages, and its Web site gets 9 million tracking requests. "Customers know the location of their package within seconds of its location being updated," Killeen says.

Wireless applications help UPS customers locate their packages, John Killeen, director of global network systems for UPS says.

Welcome to the future of wireless applications. Software vendors are just beginning to dream of the kinds of applications they might develop to leverage the capabilities of third- and fourth-generation wireless-network technology. Carriers such as Cingular, Nextel, SprintPCS, and Verizon are rolling out 3G technology that has data speeds of 300 to 500 Kbps and up, and the first 4G wireless networks that promise bandwidths of 1 Gbps are on the horizon.

Wireless communications at such speeds will change forever the way data is accessed through applications that can be run virtually anywhere. "People are talking about extending existing desktop applications, all of their business applications, and the desktop-computing experience to the mobile worker. Everything from databases to content, whatever they happen to need, will be available to them," says Andy Fuertes, senior analyst with IT-research firm Visant Strategies.

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