Symbol Marches Forward with RFID

Q&A: Anthony Bartolo, vice president of Symbol's RFID and Wireless Infrastructure group, discusses where Symbol and new owner Motorola plan to go with RFID technology.

NEW YORK—On Sept. 19 Motorola announced its plans to acquire enterprise mobility company Symbol Technologies for $3.9 billion. While it was rumored that there was interest in Symbol from Motorola as well as its competitors, the announcement sent ripples through the RFID industry where Symbol has a strong presence in the reader and tag market.

Senior Writer Renee Boucher Ferguson sat down with Anthony Bartolo, the vice president and general manager of Symbols RFID and Wireless Infrastructure Divisions, on Sept. 25 in New York to discuss where Symbol is at now with its RFID efforts, and where Symbol and Motorola might take the nascent technology together.

The chief technology officer of Symbol, who was scheduled in Mr. Bartolos stead, was not available.

Prior to the Motorola acquisition, where was RFID on Symbols roadmap prior, and where do you expect to go once the company is acquired?

We are still going through an integration process that will take place through the end of the year, beginning of next year at the latest and then we will be one entity. I would anticipate that, depending on the development cycles of both the Motorola teams and Symbol teams, and the synergies we will get, you will start to see products that are a combination of the two within two or three quarters or so.

What I do expect is the RFID portfolio will be primarily a Symbol portfolio. Symbol has a very strong reputation in RFID. Our portfolio has been continuing over the last two-and-a-half years since our acquisition of Matrix, and our products are continuing to be enhanced.

What we found is we dont feel that our product portfolio is wanting actually. What we feel is our product portfolio [needs expansion in other areas]: Its availability in multi countries, in many, many countries, and with RFID standards.

RFID standards, though they fit in with EPCglobal, the regulatory bodies of RFID within each individual countries in some cases hasnt even been established. Weve deployed RFID within those countries, but the governments have provided a waiver in some cases because they havent established a regulatory body.

So foremost for us is to continue to enhance our geographic expansion of the existing product—so having the RD5000 [wireless RFID reader announced last month] available not only in the U.S. and certain parts of Europe, but to cover all of Europe, to cover all of Asia Pacific.

But we have to do that on a country-by-country basis, which we do. We do that relatively methodically. But it takes time. With a wider resource base such as Motorolas, I can see that activity happening much faster, which would be a definite net benefit for our customers, particularly global customers.

In talking to analysts, partners and different experts in the industry, some consensus was that Motorola might drop Symbols RFID line all together. Any chance of that happening?

I dont see that happening. Motorola has categorically stated that they plan on keeping all the divisions within the company—[RFID] is what attracted them to Symbol in the first place. So I dont see that happening. Ive seen some reports, and I was surprised. I think this is one of the first acquisitions not done for cost cutting or synergies but for product portfolios that actually make sense.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about Symbols future now that it has been acquired by Motorola.

This is an excellent move for RFID. Certainly Motorola and their avenues to market complement ours so much. There are certain avenues to market which we had no real traction with—not as a result of not having the product portfolio, but more as a result of not having the reach or breadth of established relationships that would allow us to gain traction in any meaningful way.

It seems like Motorola has worked on RFID development for a while—a couple stabs in the 1990s and some current development work—but it has not had a lot of success. Symbol too has an RFID division, but it has not been a real profitable division. What will it take to really bring RFID home?

Its like any business in its early days. You spend time developing the right products that will stimulate volume, which really drives profitability. I dont know if you know any company thats profitable in RFID right now. Let me just say that some are more profitable than others.

Were very happy with the trajectory of our RFID business and its incumbent upon me to enhance that trajectory and its behaving the way we see nascent technologies behave. So there is nothing discouraging that we see about RFID technology at all.

Do we want it to go much faster to see adoption a complete hockey stick? Absolutely. Wed love to see that. What are precursors to that are natural development phases of customers and how they develop technologies.

RFID used to be for free, where you effectively give customers equipment to try out and basically do technology testing—seeing if it works. Those days have moved on to the paid for pilot, where technology has been proven out. Its now a case of seeing what processes prove out. When you pay for a pilot something unique happens.

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