Why Motorola Should Focus on RFID

As Motorola integrates Symbol Technology's products and its own, Motorola should put RFID at the heart of its strategy.
Published: September 28, 2006

Yesterday, I pointed out that Motorola has not had much success in radio frequency identification. But as the company integrates Symbol’s products with its own, it should make Symbol’s RFID efforts a key part of its RFID strategy, because RFID will drive growth for other products as the market takes off.

Motorola’s acquisition of Symbol is driven largely by Motorola’s desire to get access to Symbol’s large customer base. Motorola wants to sell its rugged mobile computing devices and its wireless networking hardware to Symbol’s existing customers. Makes sense.

One problem with this strategy, of course, is that Motorola still has to convince end users to buy its hardware over products offered by competitors. And even with a foot in the door, there’s no guarantee that because Company A buys Symbol handheld computers they will automatically purchase Motorola’s Mobile Data Terminals or two-way radios.

I believe that the growth of wireless computing will continue, and that we are moving toward a data-collection and data-sharing ecosystem where everyone and everything in a business is connected all the time. RFID will be a big part of this ecosystem, but only one part. All kinds of other technologies will be linked seamlessly (we hope) to local, wide-area, cell and other networks, feeding data to back-end systems that let companies monitor their operations in extremely fine detail. Among the technologies that will be used are active and passive RFID, the Global Positioning System, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices, bar-code readers, mobile and handheld computers and cell phones.

Today, there is no easy way to fuse these disparate devices into one seamless system. Companies buy different technologies from different vendors and then either struggle to integrate the devices or use them in standalone mode.

With the purchase of Symbol, Motorola is in an ideal position to offer companies the hardware and software needed to create a seamless wireless ecosystem. Many of Symbol’s customers use Symbol’s Mobility Services Platform (MSP), a software suite that helps IT managers deploy mobile computers, monitor them, manage applications and upgrade software remotely. Symbol has been working to integrate its RFID interrogators-fixed, handheld and a new forklift truck mounted device-into this architecture. If Motorola can integrate Symbol’s MSP suite with its own hardware and software offerings, it could offer customers a single platform for managing all wireless devices. And if Motorola combines the two companies’ services organizations, it would have the people to support large wireless ecosystems.

Symbol customers would buy Motorola equipment because it could be linked and managed easily within their existing wireless infrastructure. Motorola could sell the Symbol platform, handheld computers and RFID devices to Motorola customers adopting RFID because their existing Motorola equipment would be managed and linked with the new Symbol equipment. The system would be supported by one company. That’s a powerful story.

And RFID could be the thing that drives sales. As adoption of the technology expands, it will fuel growth in other wireless products. For instance, many companies will need to upgrade wireless networks in their warehouses because it is easier to link RFID interrogators wirelessly than to run Ethernet cables to every dock door. RFID will push more companies to put mobile computers on forklifts because RFID interrogators can detect what’s on the forklift and transfer that data to mobile computers on the truck. More staff will need handheld computers because more assets and products will have RFID tags that need to be read and so on.

I don’t know if the higher-ups at Motorola are thinking along these lines. If they are, then Motorola—despite its false starts—might wind up becoming a dominant player in what will become in a few years a very sizeable RFID market.