Symbol Technologies: Out of the Office
Never mind the conference room: Symbol takes wireless networking into the field. Its bailiwick is selling wireless deviceslike handheld Windows-based terminals and bar-code scannerstailored 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.
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 ceilingif it goes out, you can just plug in a new bulb," McGovern adds. "It's been 'install and walk away.'" TODD SPANGLER
Symbol operating results*
*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