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Symbol Debuts New RF Switch

Taking its push to enable the "next generation of enterprise mobility" to a new, more pervasive level, Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL) today introduced its new radio-frequency switch, the RFS7000, which the company calls the first wireless switch that connects different RF technologies including WiFi, RFID, and WiMax.

Available in "select regions" in the first quarter of 2007, the new switch is designed as a natural evolution of Symbol's 5000 line of switches, while at the same time representing an engineering advance that will support multiple hardware platforms, processor systems, and radio technologies.

Symbol introduced the RFS7000 at Mobile Business Expo today in Chicago.

The new switch, says Symbol vice president Anthony Bartolo, general manager of the company's wireless infrastructure and RFID divisions, is "an enterprise-class device that allows customers to move from the third generation of wireless switching to the fourth generation of RF switching."

The key element of the new switch is its ability to support, and integrate, various wireless technologies including WiFi and RFID, allowing simultaneous central management of those networks on one platform.

Enterprise IT managers, says Bartolo, should ask themselves a series of questions about their wireless networking plans. "Do you want to make sure the network is scaleable as your business grows? Are you pushing out applications that are a little more grownup, if you will, than email or surfing the Internet? If its just email and surfing, there are plenty of vendors that can do that. But if you are mobilizing mission-critical applications, you really have to think of RF as beginning at the AP, not ending."

Symbol, which agreed in September to be acquired by Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), believes the new hardware -- which builds on the company's Wireless Next Generation ("Wi-NG") software architecture -- will provide access to new vertical industries beyond its core retail supply-chain business, including manufacturing, healthcare, and professional services such as the financial industry. Among the initial customers adopting the new switch is Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, the largest private hospital in Southeast Asia. (See Moto's Symbolic Convergence.)

"Our environment must accommodate both current and future wireless technologies, including RFID, which will be an important innovation for us," said Chang Foo, Bumrungrad's director of IT operations, in a statement. "Our preference is to manage the applications with one platform, to help ensure that we continue to deliver quality services to our patients and streamline hospital administrative services."

"If you're considering moving to new RF technologies such as RFID, or WiMax, or Zigbee, will you build those on top of your existing infrastructure as a separate network, and use your existing IT team to manage that new network?" asks Bartolo. "Or do you want to manage that as an integral part of your existing network?"

The move into integrated WiFi/RFID systems places Symbol in competition with wireless LAN titan Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which in partnership with AeroScout has introduced an integrated solution for tracking assets, particular in the healthcare industry, using active RFID tags and WiFi networks.

"Asset management starts to be the key," remarks Bartolo. "What may have been too expensive to tag with an active tag, and too complicated to do with 802.11, now with passive tagging and the RFS7000 you can do it for cents rather than 40 to 50 bucks per tag."

List prices for the new switch will range from $7,500 up to $25,000 depending on the size of the deployment, says Bartolo.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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