Symbol Technologies

Symbol Technologies

Infobox Company
company_name = Symbol Technologies Inc.
company_type = Subsidiary of Motorola
foundation = 1975
location =
key_people = Kathy Paladino, CEO
>Dr. Boris Metlitsky, SVP and General Manager Global Products Group
industry = AIDC
products = Barcode readers, wireless networking, mobile computers, RFID
revenue =
operating_income =
net_income =
num_employees = 5400
parent =
subsid =
homepage = []
footnotes =

Symbol Technologies is a manufacturer and worldwide supplier of mobile data capture and delivery equipment. The company specializes in barcode scanners, mobile computers, RFID systems and Wireless LAN infrastructure. Symbol Technologies is headquarted in Holtsville, New York USA.


The company was founded in 1975 by Dr. Jerome Swartz. At that time, the company focused on handheld laser based scanning of bar codes. Under Dr. Swartz's leadership the company became the world leader in handheld laser bar code scanning devices which are commonly seen around the world at point of sale registers. The company focused heavily on the retail industry and began to get involved in inventory management. These activities typically required people to scan items at where they are stored and as such needed to be mobile. Symbol began to make small computers that could store data scanned to take inventory counts remotely and then upload the information gathered to a host system. This was the rationale for the purchase of MSI - a mobile computer company that was headquartered in southern California. This acquisition was difficult and a cultural shock for many of the company' engineers. A contingent of the core team was transferred to the New York facility.

The mobile computers being manufactured at the time relied on static memory (in this case SRAM) for execution space and general storage. SRAM was extremely expensive and the team determined that it would be an improvement to use a radio to allow the mobile computer to be unteathered but connected to the host system. A thin client architecture was adopted in conjunction with a spread spectrum radio network. These radio linked computers were the first practical use of TCP/IP over radio to communicate site-wide.

The Enterprise Mobility Management market was dominated by Symbol Technologies and Telxon, Inc. Most notably, these two companies serviced major retailers such as Wal-Mart (when they were a small company up to and including the huge corpation we know today), Kroger, Safeway, Federated and others. IEEE 802.11 standards did not exist at this time and the market was nascent.

A notable turning point occurred in 1994 with a competition for business at Kroger. Symbol Technologies and Telxon were operating radio networks in the 2.4 GHz ISM bands. IEEE 802.11 was not yet ratified, so Symbol and Telxon were free to define competing standards of communication at this frequency band. Symbol settled on frequency hopping as the most robust, agile and interference-tolerant approach to data communications while Telxon selected direct sequence technology which they felt afforded higher transfer speeds with adequate interference immunity. Kroger ordered a head-to-head comparison test. Ultimately and not decisively, Kroger chose Telxon. At about the same time, the IEEE decided to adopt the direct sequence approach in its IEEE 802.11b standard. It is not clear from discussions with people in the field if Kroger's decision had anything to do with the selection of direct sequence.

The ratification of IEEE 802.11b was a huge blow to the Symbol team which now had to reconfigure and engineer a direct sequence radio system. This was accomplished with great pains and IEEE 802.11b became a reality in the industrial and commercial markets far before the radios were available to the consumer market.

The addition of a radio to a mobile device was roughly estimated to have a real value of between $500 and $1000 per unit. This was paid by enterprise class customers that desperately needed this feature to accomplish their operations.

Later on Symbol would start to sell the radios as PC Cards as a stand alone product to various OEMs and private label customers. These included 3Com, Nokia and Intel.

The Symbol team had a firm but temporary grip on the IEEE 802.11b market. Telxon was suffering from lower prices being pushed into the market for handheld computers and was treading on dangerous ground related to their ability to cover costs. In the meantime, Intel, Apple and Cisco were looking at the technology to see how they would use this to their commercial advantage. Cisco investigated the acquisition of various manufacturers of wireless gear to augment their commanding position in the wired infrastructure field. Cisco performed due dilligence with both Symbol and Telxon, deciding to purchase the Aeronet component of Telxon that designed and manufactured the radios.

The Cisco purchase of Telxon's Aeronet division marked the inflection point of the market moving from a specialized, esoteric market to a mass consumer and enterprise market. At this point, Symbol was left watching the acceleration of market demand and left in the dust of the massive Cisco marketing machine. Symbol would never recover the top spot in wireless revenue except claims related to niche divisions of the overall market.

Notable Drivers and Accomplishments

Dr. Jerome Swartz - a true innovator and charismatic leader, drove the company forward on creative fronts. Often quoted for his "changing atoms to bits" discussion of how to illuminate a target with a laser, decode the physical return of the light and thus taking photons and making data available to the computer systems that they served. Schwartz was dedicated to the company and the people. He often used his personal contacts to assist company associates to get the best possible medical care when diagnosed with life threatening diseases. Schwartz was a prolific inventor, awarded dozens of patents, awards and recognitions. He is now supporting the development of Neural Science research related to computational advancement. Schwartz is an alumnus of Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.

Dr. Fred Heiman - a former chief scientist for Intel, moved to Symbol as a friend of Jerry Swartz. Heiman was instrumental in developing the radio division of Symbol with a focus on making industry firsts. Among the most notable achievements were:

* First IP pager for WiFi networks
* First VoIp phone, circa 1998
* First VoIP dataphone - included voice, terminal emulation and bar code scanner in one device
* The wireless switch - concept to use thin access points controlled through IP by a remote switch; patents received. It is likely that all providers of wireless switch systems, including Aruba and Cisco infringe on this patent and their derivatives.

In December 2000 Symbol acquired Telxon Corporation, which strengthened the firm's position in the market.

In 2004 Symbol acquired Matrics, helping the company to push further into the RFID field.

On January 9, 2007, Symbol was acquired by Motorola for $3.9B. [ [ Motorola Completes Acquisition of Symbol Technologies] ]

Former CEO

Tomo Razmilovic was formerly the CEO of Symbol Technologies, Inc.. He and others have been accused of carrying out accounting frauds where investors lost more than $200 million. Razmilovic remains in Sweden and has avoided interaction with United States legal proceedings claiming that he would not receive fair treatment in the US judicial system.


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