USPS trims billion-dollar wireless plan, eyes COTS

The U.S. Postal Service is dramatically scaling back an ambitious nationwide wireless communications program that would have cost more than $1 billion in equipment and services and is instead tailoring its requirements to accommodate off-the-shelf hardware.

In an effort to enhance its mail-tracking capabilities USPS last year said it would buy 300 000 custom-made handheld devices for scanning bar codes on letters and packages. The devices would send data on the delivery place and time to a central host system via a wide-area wireless cellular data network which the agency planned to buy through a separate contract.

But in a memorandum posted earlier this month USPS said it has "re-evaluated the requirements for mobile data collection devices (MDCD) and has determined that the Enhanced Street Performance component would not be developed at this time." The ESP component would allow letter carriers to send and receive two-way messages and emergency alerts.

The memo went on to say that the program requirements for MDCD "may now be met by an off-the-shelf product. As a result the need for wireless communications to support the program will no longer be necessary."

USPS also pulled back a request for proposals released in October for cellular wireless data services. The agency had said it reserved the right to buy these services off the General Services Administration's wireless contract awarded to GTE Government Systems. USPS now says it has no need at this time to buy cellular data services off GSA's contract however it is encouraging its local offices to consider buying cellular voice services from GSA.

Meanwhile David Beckman a contracting officer at USPS said the agency has decided to conduct another vendor pre-qualification round that would open the buy to other bidders. "The wireless capability has been deleted so this allows other suppliers like OEMs to bid " he said. The device now envisioned is essentially a handheld scanner that will be able to download data to a host system.

Other pre-qualified vendors include TRW Inc. Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.

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