TELECOM MERGER COULD OPEN DOOR TO NEXT GENERATION OF CARGO TRACING

TELECOM MERGER COULD OPEN DOOR TO NEXT GENERATION OF CARGO TRACING

The proposed buyout last week of Tele-Communications Inc., the nation's largest cable television company, by the Bell Atlantic Corp., could have far- reaching implications for international trade and transportation, analysts said.

"The application of TCI's interactive technologies operating over Bell Atlantic's lines has a tremendous potential where speed and the movement of information is of the essence," said Robert Crowley, president of CW Consultants in Lodi, N.J. "What this merger does is make available to us a whole new range of options that brings the future even closer."Those options could include new interactive systems for tracking and tracing cargo shipments, said Mr. Crowley, who is also chairman of X12, the electronic data interchange standards body for the United States.

"This kind of technology could tie into real-time inspection of trailers and containers; inspectors may not have to be at the gate anymore," said James Drogan of International Business Machines Corp.'s freight consulting group. "There's all kinds of things you could do."

A shipper, for example, could use the new interactive technology to get a video display of port facilities. If he likes what he sees, he could then call up a map to show how he could route his cargo to that port, added Mr. Drogan, who is based in Southbury, Conn.

Easier access to information databases could be another benefit, said Douglas C. Fields, vice president of information services for United Parcel Service.

"Once you have a good delivery system in place, then you're going to encourage more information sources, some of which will be customized for the business environment," he said.

For example, financial and accounting departments could get information relative to exchange rates, while marketing departments could have access to clipping services.

Mr. Fields said he also could envision retail stores using the new technology to provide video programming specifically geared to their customers.

The merger, if approved by the Clinton administration, also would make it easier for individuals to book cargo and make their own travel reservations.

Susan Appel, manager of cargo information systems in North America for Lufthansa German Airlines, said the combination of Bell Atlantic and TCI could speed the development of an information super highway.

"Timely and widespread data exchange reaching our customers and partners worldwide is vital to the information demands of the transportation industry," she said.

The deal would make Bell Atlantic the sixth-largest company in the United States.

"This merger will drive us to deploy a broad band of technology," said Eric Rave, a spokesman for the Philadelphia-based company.

"The main thing that will change in the telephone network is that it will be capable of high-volume transmission; in the TCI network, what will change is the switching," he added. "In a world like that, the number of channels available becomes irrelevant."