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Two Potential Gorillas Emerge

Consolidation has left Honeywell and Motorola Solutions the two dominant players in the automatic-identification market.
By Mark Roberti

In 2007, Motorola acquired Symbol Technologies, one of the largest providers of bar-code scanners and RFID hardware. Symbol had purchased several bar-code and RFID companies over the years. In 2000, it acquired rival Telxon, strengthening its position in the market for handheld smart terminals that could scan bar codes. In 2004, with Walmart pushing suppliers to tag pallets and cases, Symbol purchased Matrics, a small maker of RFID tags and readers, for $230 million, giving it a foothold in the nascent RFID market.

Last year, Motorola increased its influence in the mobile RFID reader market by purchasing Psion for $200 million. In 2000, Psion, a London-based maker of smart terminals, bought Teklogix, a Canadian company that made rugged bar-code handheld devices.

All this consolidation leaves Honeywell and Motorola as the two biggest players in the auto-ID space. Motorola currently has the largest market share for passive UHF RFID readers. Intermec has not been as aggressive in the market during the past three years as it was in the early days of the Walmart initiative.

For both companies, bar codes still represent the largest portion of their auto-ID business. With companies still replacing linear bar-code scanners and introducing some 2-D bar-code scanners, that is unlikely to change. But as the RFID market picks up, it is likely these two giants will ramp up their efforts and go head to head for many of the largest deals.

The competition between two dominant players could be good for end users and for RFID adoption in general. Competition leads to competitive pricing, and both companies have the resources to invest in new, more advanced RFID products. But it remains to be seen whether Honeywell or Motorola will invest in the RFID market, where sales are a tiny fraction of the overall auto-ID business. If both do, there could be quite a battle for supremacy, and one could emerge the "gorilla"—author Geoffrey Moore's term for the dominant technology supplier in a market—in the RFID sector. Moore says a gorilla is necessary for the technology to achieve mass adoption.

If only one company invests in RFID, that company will likely be richly rewarded. A gorilla typically gets more than 50 percent of the market for technologies that reach mass adoption. If neither Honeywell nor Motorola focus on their RFID divisions, that could open the door for a smaller reader manufacturer, such as Impinj in the United States or CAEN RFID in Europe, to achieve gorilla status. Stay tuned.

Illustration: iStockphoto

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