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Symbol’s Goal: Win With High-Performance RFID Solutions

With its acquisition of Matrics complete, Symbol Technologies aims to compete in the UHF RFID market by providing high-performance RFID tags and interrogators and complete solutions for specific industries.
By Mark Roberti
Jan 02, 2006—Larry Blue was walking near the famed Sydney Opera House in Australia, back in August, when he spotted a discarded airline baggage tag on the sidewalk. The vice president and general manager of Symbol Technologies’ radio frequency identification tag business immediately recognized that the baggage tag was issued in Hong Kong and contained one of his company’s 2- by 4-inch UHF inlays. He peeled it off the pavement and stuck it in his pocket. “When I got back to the office, I waved it in front of one of our interrogators, and it still read,” he says with obvious satisfaction.

Blue likes to recount this anecdote because he sees it as, well, a symbol of his company’s greatest strength—the ability to produce reliable, high-performance UHF RFID systems. Symbol, based in Holtsville, N.Y., is one of the few companies committed to providing both tags and interrogators. The company believes this allows it to offer systems that outperform its competitors' offerings, giving it an edge in a market that will eventually be crowded with companies offering EPC Gen 2 tags or readers, or both.

“System performance is the game changer,” says Blue. “When you can achieve 99 percent or 99.5 percent read rates, that allows companies to change their business practices, and that’s what’s going to deliver the return on investment.”

And that’s not Symbol’s only advantage, according to Blue and Philip Lazo, vice president and general manager of Symbol Technologies’ RFID infrastructure business. They say Symbol will be a major player in the market for UHF systems because it also boasts global services and support capabilities, expertise in wireless connectivity and device management, and the ability to partner with software and services companies to deliver solutions for specific vertical markets.

Symbol was something of a latecomer to RFID. The Auto-ID Center was set up in 1999 to develop Electronic Product Code technologies. Symbol joined in early 2002; a year later, in January 2003, Lazo was hired away from Tyco/ADT to run Symbol’s RFID products group. The group began work on a version of its popular MC9000 handheld computer that would be able to read UHF EPC tags.

Still, Symbol remained quiet about exactly what its RFID plans were, as the company had larger issues to contend with. In July 2003, CEO Tomo Razmilovic resigned and fled to Sweden as U.S. regulators uncovered evidence of accounting fraud. William Nuti, who had joined the company from Cisco in 2002 as president and chief operating officer, took over and brought in his own team, including John Bruno, who is now senior vice president and general manager of the RFID team. Lazo and Blue both report to Bruno.

Nuti put the company’s house back in order and, in July 2004, made a bold move into the RFID market when Symbol acquired Matrics, one of two high-profile startups then focused on the EPC market (the other was Alien Technology), for the eye-popping sum of $230 million (see Symbol Acquires Matrics). The move immediately made Symbol a major player in the market. Matrics not only had well-regarded technology, it also had won a number of major contracts, including one with a major retailer (the customer required Matrics to sign a nondisclosure agreement).
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