Packstation: DHL converts older machines to Bluetooth

The parcel service DHL is gradually converting older Packstations to pure app operation. In the older machines, the display, scanner, input field and printer are removed and covered. Packages can then only be picked up and shipped using the app for iOS and Android, which contacts the Packstation via Bluetooth.

Around 1,100 older devices are affected, a DHL spokesman confirmed when asked by heise online. Due to their age, these are not as flexible and therefore cannot be equipped with new functions as easily as with newer models. That is why these older models are now being converted into display-free packing stations that can only be operated via the app.

In autumn 2021, DHL had started to switch the operation of the Packstations entirely to the app and discontinued the old procedure with a customer card and an individual number code. Since then, a QR code that is only valid for a short time has been generated in the app for collection, which is scanned at the Packstation, whereupon the machine releases the compartment with the shipment.

Because the scanners at the older stations were no longer able to handle the QR code, a ten-digit individual code, which is also only valid for a short time, had to be entered when picking up these models. So far, however, it has also been possible to pick up shipments from friends or family members without having direct access to their smartphones – for example, if you had the code sent to you via Messenger.

Converted packing station in Berlin: input field and scanner are covered, instead of a display, a small Bluetooth antenna greets you from the peephole.

(Image: heise online)

This is no longer possible after the conversion of the older packing stations. The old display replaces a panel with two built-in function lights and a Bluetooth antenna. The Packstation makes contact with the smartphone and the app running on it and then opens the correct compartment. In order for this to work, Bluetooth must be activated on the smartphone and the app must have rights to use Bluetooth.

DHL customers are familiar with the procedure from the displayless Packstations that are available at some locations. These machines were first tested in 2020 as “Packstation compact”, back then with their own app. Their functions have now been included in the DHL app and the stations are in regular operation. The name “pack station compact” is no longer used, the company speaks of “app-controlled packing stations”.

According to DHL, it currently has no plans to convert all packing stations to the Bluetooth process. “The conversion is only about the older types of machines and around 1,100 machines,” emphasizes the spokesman. “Of our currently more than 11,500 machines, the majority of the Packstations have a screen.”

The Packstation now has a history of more than twenty years. At the end of 2001, DHL tested the first stations in Dortmund and Mainz, and from 2003 the system went into regular operation. The procedure for collection and shipping has changed several times since then. In 2016, c’t discovered a security gap in the mTAN procedure used at the time.

DHL now operates more than 11,500 Packstations with over a million parcel lockers. The company speaks of the “success story Packstations”. By the end of the year there should be up to 15,000 machines. More than 19 million registered customers use the Packstation as an alternative place of delivery.


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