Dunkin' Donuts blends voice, WLANs in warehouse

* Donut giant to take Airespace pilot live

Voice-based warehouse "picking" systems are doing their part to help spur the use of wireless LANs.

Such systems learn the sound of a worker's voice through speech recognition, then instruct that worker - who wears a portable computer and wireless headset - as to which items to pick from the warehouse inventory and where to deposit them for shipment.

A highly accurate voice-based picking system can greatly speed warehouse productivity, compared with workers having to print and consult paper instructions. Some workers - like those in the Dunkin' Donuts Swedesboro, N.J., warehouse - drive carts or other small vehicles. So hands-free voice systems can also contribute to safety in picking operations.

Specifically, Dunkin' Donuts has been piloting Airespace wireless to support the Voxware VoiceLogistics picking system. The renowned pink-and-orange striped donut chain plans to soon go commercial with its six Airespace multimode 802.11a/b/g lightweight access points and an Airespace 4000 WLAN switch, which it uses to segregate its traffic for performance.

It runs Voxware traffic on the 802.11b 2.4 GHz frequencies, data on the 802.11a 5 GHz frequencies and, for now, has disabled 802.11g to avoid interference with 802.11b traffic, says Boris Shubin, director of IT in the Dunkin' Donuts Swedesboro site.

He notes that 802.11b (11M bit/sec) is used in lieu of the faster 802.11g (54M bit/sec) radios only because Voxware doesn't yet work with the higher-speed network.

Shubin says the Airespace switch dictates prioritization for voice traffic according to the frequency band, so all traffic from the "Voxware WLAN" (802.11b) is prioritized highest, while the "data WLAN" (802.11a) has lowest priority.

"The switch dictates prioritization at the access point level as well," Shubin explains. "It also affects what gets sent over the wire - from the access points to the switch and on to the Voxware application server - and what gets sent out to the access points first."

Shubin says his organization settled on using Airespace because it is the "closest thing I've seen to zero administration in an environment where 90% or more of our recurring total cost of ownership is support."

For example, says Shubin, Airespace WLANs will dynamically change channels if one experiences interference. And the lightweight access point architecture means Shubin makes all configuration and management changes once, to the switch, not to multiple access points.

"I'm thin on IT resources here," he says. "So this is helpful."

Learn more about this topic

VLANs for voice?

Network World Wireless in the Enterprise Newsletter, 06/16/04

Virtual APs solve contention, security problems

Network World Wireless in the Enterprise Newsletter, 06/07/04

Airespace 'wizard' sheds light on partner QoS roles

Network World Wireless in the Enterprise Newsletter, 05/12/04

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