Over the next few months, Symbol Technologies plans to roll out a flurry of new wireless products, including a handheld computer, a forklift scanner, a wireless switch for blade server racks and a miniature scan engine.
The MC9097 handheld computer, due to ship by the end of March, is a 23-ounce scanning and data-entry device that combines wireless Internet, VoIP, two-way walkie-talkie and Bluetooth functionality, said Chuck Dourlet, vice president of product management at Symbol, Holtsville, N.Y. Mobile employees who perform tasks such as warehouse inventory management, package delivery and field maintenance can get about 10 hours of realtime data and voice communication from the MC9097 on a single battery charge, he said.
In a first for Symbol, the MC9097 enables network administrators to upgrade or reboot an application or firmware remotely, allowing new units to be deployed directly into the field without first having to go though the home office, Dourlet said. The shock-resistant device is rugged, too, he added. "It can be dropped 6 feet to a cement floor and absorb the shock," he said.
Other MC9097 features include assisted GPS support, Nextel nationwide walkie-talkie service, 802.11 wireless connectivity, wireless Internet capability that supports voice and data, and a bar-code and RFID scanner. The device is powered by an Intel XScale PXA270 processor running Windows Mobile 5.0 Phone Edition and will be priced between $3,100 and $3,800, according to Symbol.
Also slated to arrive before the end of March is an RFID-enabled forklift scanner prototype, said Lou Steinberg, chief technology officer and vice president of Symbol's Global Products Group. The unit will mount on most conventional forklifts and allow the driver to read RFID tags on inventory pallets without having to get off the lift, he said.
"Now [drivers will] have the ability to read a pallet as [they] pick it up on the forklift and start making business decisions on the forklift itself," Steinberg said.
Jeff Lem, president of QData, a Markham, Ontario-based solution provider and Symbol partner, said Symbol's strategy is aimed squarely at the increased use of RFID and the rising number of mobile workers. He said he especially likes the versatility of the MC9097, since combining multiple functions on one device reduces cost and device management overhead for customers.
Still, customers make some sacrifices with such multifunction devices, added Lem, whose company specializes in bar-code, RFID and wireless solutions. "I think there will be some tradeoff inherently. [The MC9097] won't be as consistent as a stand-alone phone or a stand-alone notebook. And it’s a bit bigger [than past Symbol handhelds], so it's a little more awkward to use," he said.
Symbol also is taking aim at customers using blade servers. The new Symbol WS5120 Wireless Switch, designed to operate in the rack of an IBM eServer BladeCenter configuration, houses an 802.11i secure wireless access point and enables customers to add wireless access to their network via their BladeCenter enclosure, instead of having to wire in a stand-alone wireless access point, Steinberg said.
New SE950 and SE955 scan engines also are on the way from Symbol. The tiny scan engines, about the size of a USB flash drive, will be available on an OEM basis to customers and vendors developing their own bar-code and RFID scanning devices, Steinberg said. Symbol will offer a lifetime warranty on the scan engines, he added.