Coca-Cola to deploy 28,000 Symbol mobile computers

Symbol Technologies introduced a new family of rugged, mobile computers with built-in tri-mode wireless capabilities Tuesday and announced that Coca-Cola Enterprises plans to deploy 28,000 of the units to route drivers in North America and Europe.

The deal is valued at roughly US$30 million.

Both of the new Symbol handheld computers are based on the Intel Corp. XScale PXA255 processor and run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE.Net Mobile 2003 operating system as well as the Pocket PC phone edition for communication over cellular networks. They include built-in 802.11b Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth short-range wireless access; built-in Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service radios; and Code Division Multiple Access radios for WAN cellular communications.

The new MXC9000-K offers a choice of 28-, 43- or 53-key keyboards, measures 9.2-in. long by 3.6-in. wide by 1.7-in. deep and weighs between 22 and 25 ounces, depending on configuration.

The MC9000-S is smaller (7.6 by 3.6 by 1.7 in.) and comes with a 28-key keyboard only. Both models have a 3.8-in. screen, available in color or monochrome. Data-capture options include one-dimensional and two-dimensional laser-scan and imaging engines. Symbol said the new devices are targeted at a variety of vertical markets, including field service, manufacturing, route accounting, transportation and logistics and wholesale distribution. They are priced between US$2,895 to US$3,595, depending on the wireless configuration.

Steve Schmid, senior director of product marketing at Symbol, said Coca-Cola Enterprises, the largest Coca-Cola bottler in the world, will deploy the compact MC9000-S to help drivers in Europe and North America manage deliveries and take orders. Coca-Cola Enterprises operates in parts of 46 states in the U.S., all 10 provinces in Canada and in parts of Europe including Belgium, continental France, the U.K., Luxembourg, Monaco and the Netherlands.

Christopher Koterski, program manager for mobile computing at Coca-Cola Enterprises, wasn't available for comment today but said in a statement that the new mobile computers will "enhance productivity and maximize customer value." Schmid said Coca-Cola plans to configure its handhelds depending on the market, with units in the U.S equipped with built-in cellular connectivity.

Coca-Cola also plans to use Bluetooth to communicate with Bluetooth-equipped vending machines. Jeff Kagan, an Atlanta-based telecommunications analyst, said this will allow route drivers to remotely check the inventory levels of vending machines and quickly bypass those that don't need restocking.

Kagan added that multimode wireless devices would eventually become the norm for mobile workers who such devices, which can sniff out the best signal in different areas. He added that pioneering users of wireless technology such as Coca-Cola stand to reap a competitive advantage until their rivals deploy similar systems.

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