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Carrier WiFi

Symbol Plants For-Sale Sign

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) is said to be the top bidder for Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL), which has put itself up for sale, according to a report over the weekend in The Wall Street Journal. Some analysts and industry sources, however, say that other players could be in the running for all or part of Symbol's vertical enterprise empire.

Others could include General Dynamics Corp. , which recently bought Itronix, or Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE). "Intermec Technologies Corp. -- their primary competitor -- is probably not big enough to absorb them, though they may try," says Jack Gold, of J.Gold Associates "Other companies might include Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC), Data General -- they've been on an acquisition spree -- and at least one investor consortium," says Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group .

An industry source requesting anonymity agrees that the investor community could also have a dog in the hunt, suggesting that a private equity house such as The Blackstone Group could take the Holtsville, N.Y-based firm. The WSJ puts Symbol's asking price at $3.8 billion.

Asked about the takeover talk, Symbol spokeswoman Patricia Hall responded, "We do not comment on rumors and speculation."

Whatever happens, Gold says that it will take an entity with deep pockets to buy Symbol outright. "At $1.8 billion in sales, Moto would likely have to pay $6 to $8 billion to get them," he tells Unstrung. Symbol's stock price is somewhat depressed at the moment, so the price might be less, Gold adds.

Motorola would drastically increase its presence in the wireless field with such a deal. "From Motorola's perspective, they have been trying to get into the customized, ruggedized device market for some time," says Gold. "But [CEO Ed] Zander is pushing them to get into complementary areas that are growth-oriented and synergistic with their mobile strategy." Symbol has a major portfolio of RFID technology and intellectual property and "a commanding lead," according to Gold, selling to the retail vertical market, along with a growing presence in healthcare.

Motorola would not comment on the prospect of it acquiring Symbol.

Other analysts and sources suggest that the deal might be a little more complicated than a simple buyout of one company by another. "It might not be that Symbol is generically up for sale," says Ken Dulaney of Gartner Inc. "This may be a case where one company wants to grow a segment of business and finds that an acquisition might strengthen it more rapidly than internal development."

Other sources say that whatever happens, Symbol business units will likely be sold off. "The other scenarios would be selling off pieces of the business," a vendor source says. "To that end, I have heard that if the Motorola deal happens, [Symbol's] WLAN business will most likely be dropped."

Symbol is the second largest supplier of enterprise WiFi gear in the market. 802.11, however, is not the firm's core business, and there has long been speculation that the firm might sell off that division to help put its financial house in order. (See Symbolic Upheaval.) Unstrung reported last August that the WLAN unit could be sold off. (See What Now for Symbol?)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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