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Symbol Technologies: Out of the Office

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2005-06-10 Print this article Print

Its focus is on wireless infrastructure and devices tailor-made for workers outside a typical office setting.

Never mind the conference room: Symbol takes wireless networking into the field. Its bailiwick is selling wireless devices—like handheld Windows-based terminals and bar-code scanners—tailored for specific industries.

Take UPS. In May, the company rolled out a wireless unit developed by Symbol that UPS expects to be used by 30,000 U.S. drivers to track packages by the end of 2005. The color-screen devices can connect to 15,000 802.11b Symbol wireless access points at UPS shipping and receiving locations, or via wide area wireless networks when drivers are on their routes.

"Symbol proved they had the right capabilities at the right cost," says Cathy Callagee, vice president of information technology at UPS, which will spend about $22 million on the project.

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Dinner theater company Medieval Times, meanwhile, uses Symbol PPT 8800 devices to let staffers take drink orders from guests at four of its eight restaurants. The devices send orders wirelessly to the bar point-of-sale system, where they're printed out. That speeds up delivery of drinks at least 50%, resulting in higher bar tabs, says Richard Dunn, senior vice president of merchandising and human resources.

"Symbol has built a product that's very well suited for this application," Dunn says. In fact, he says, compared with the devices, "we've had more problems with the access points going down." Occasionally, according to Dunn, one of the Symbol Spectrum24 access points has stopped responding, requiring a technician to climb up and reboot it, although he notes it's not a major task to reset one. (A Symbol spokeswoman says certain configurations can cause access points to stop responding and that the company has worked with customers to resolve such issues.)

Still, Symbol was at least two years ahead of major competitors in delivering a wireless switch. Health-care provider Adventist Health has deployed about 40 of Symbol's WS5000 switches at nine of its 20 hospitals. Greg McGovern, Adventist's chief technology officer, says his team spends less than two hours per month per facility managing the Symbol switches; he estimates that Cisco's standalone access points would have required twice that, easily. "We're a Cisco shop at the core, but the total cost of ownership with Symbol's switch was much more compelling," he says.

The Symbol switch's access points are "like having a light bulb in the ceiling—if it goes out, you can just plug in a new bulb," McGovern adds. "It's been 'install and walk away.'" —TODD SPANGLER

Wireless Networks

Symbol technologies

1 Symbol Plaza

Holtsville, NY 11742

(631) 738-2400




Bill Nuti

President, CEO

Prior to joining Symbol in August 2002, he spent 10 years at Cisco, most recently as senior vice president of worldwide service provider operations.

Anthony Bartolo

VP & GM, Wireless Infrastructure Division

Heads the company's 200- person wireless infrastructure division. Before joining Symbol in March 2004, he was in charge of wireless local area network product marketing at Nortel Networks.


WS5000 wireless switches manage up to 30 access points; WS5100 can handle up to 48. Spectrum24 4131 standalone access points support 802.11b and provide access for up to 127 users. Wireless devices include Windows-based handhelds and bar-code scanners.

Reference Checks

Adventist Health

Greg McGovern



Project: Health-care company based in Roseville, Calif., uses about 40 WS5000 switches with several hundred access points at nine of its 20 hospitals.

Alabama Power

John Neill

Supervisor, Supply-Chain Support

(205) 257-1751

Project: Utility uses Symbol bar-code scanners, connected to about two dozen wireless access points, to track inventory at warehouses in Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala.


Cathy Callagee

VP, I.T.

(201) 828-3602

Project: Shipping company expects to deploy Symbol-developed wireless handhelds to 30,000 U.S. drivers this year for relaying package-tracking data to its central system.

Medieval Times

Richard Dunn

Senior VP, Merchandising and Human Resources


Project: Dinner theater company uses Symbol handhelds at four locations to take drink orders and send them wirelessly to bartenders.


Rene Schlegel

Mgr., Accounting


Project: Tire manufacturer and distributor based in Long Beach, Calif., uses 60 Symbol bar-code scanners to track inventory at the company's eight warehouses nationwide.

Beloit Memorial Hospital

Doris Mulder

VP, Nursing

(608) 364-5530

Project: Wisconsin hospital has about 100 Symbol 802.11b wireless bar-code scanners, which nurses use to scan patient ID bands when administering medication.

Executives listed here are all users of Symbol's products. Their willingness to talk has been confirmed by Baseline.

Symbol operating results*

2005YTD 2004 2003
Revenue $457.49M $1.73B $1.53B
Gross margin 44.9% 46.7% 44.1%
Operating income $24.32M $140.36M $7.52M
Net income $22.17M $81.85M $3.30M
Net margin 4.9% 4.7% 0.2%
Earnings per share $0.09 $0.33 $0.01
R&D expenditure $42.35M $167.54M $156.33M

*Fiscal year ends Dec. 31; YTD reflects first three months

Source: company reports


Total assets - $1.87B

Stockholders' equity - $1.10B

Cash and equivalents - $218.22M

Long-term debt - $162.71M

Shares outstanding - 251.29M

Market value, 5/27 - $2.78B

**As of March 31, 2005, except as noted

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