Motorola Gobbles Symbol

10:30 AM -- While much will undoubtedly be made of the RFID aspects of Motorola’s acquisition of Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL), the real story, in the near term, anyway, is the fact that Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) is now a huge player in wireless LANs. RFID, as I recently wrote, isn’t going to be an overnight success, and it will have no impact (perhaps ever) on the largest segment of the automatic ID market: bar codes. Symbol became a leader in bar codes by inventing the laser bar-code scanner, building a great line of ruggedized mobile computers, and by acquiring their major competitor, Telxon, a few years back. They got into RFID in a big way via the acquisition of industry leader Matrics, and now have arguably the broadest and most capable set of products for task workers in the world. I mean, Motorola does.

Motorola had been on a tear since CEO Ed Zander took over. Zander is a smart, hard-charging guy who has the vision and personality to continue to move the formerly-sleepy cell phone manufacturer into a very broad wireless future. And that future now includes not just RFID, which will become a significant industry no matter what happens with bar codes, but also wireless LANs, which is already big and getting much, much bigger. Symbol is a perennial number two in WLANs, after Cisco, and there’s little hope that Moto will replace Cisco at the top spot. Symbol’s 5000 and 200 series of WLAN switches are good and getting better. Note that Motorola also has an investment in Trapeze Networks Inc. , and the fate of that relationship is now in doubt. Let’s complete the picture with a mention of Motorola’s big presence in wireless MANs via its Canopy and Mesh Networks operations, and of course their not insignificant roles in cellular infrastructure and even consumer wireless products.

While there is little disagreement that Motorola had lost its way not just in wireless but as a corporation before Zander’s arrival, it’s now pretty clear that Moto is back and will again be the wireless powerhouse that made its name a household fixture over the years. There is an old joke within the wireless industry, from years ago, that, in the beginning, God created the heavens, part of which is the electromagnetic spectrum. He then gave the spectrum to Motorola, who tells the FCC what to do with it. Maybe it’s not that much of a joke anymore.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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