It looks like Zebra won't be a passive player in the RFID market much longer. After years of concentrating on the passive RFID side of the business, Zebra Technologies has anted up $126 million for a stake in the active RFID market. Last month, Zebra announced it had reached an agreement to acquire WhereNet, which specializes in real-time locating systems using active RFID technology.
"Active RFID is a natural complement to passive RFID and bar coding, two key Zebra strengths," Edward Kaplan, Zebra's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement.
Zebra's announcement caught many unawares. "The move took me a little by surprise," says Mike Liard, RFID research director at ABI Research. "I see the merits of [the plan], but I think it'll be interesting to watch how Zebra integrates WhereNet's product offerings into their existing product strategies."
Analysts say Zebra stands to gain from WhereNet's impressive roster of clients in the defense, manufacturing, logistics and automotive sectors—a list that includes Ford and Nissan. WhereNet had sales of $36 million last year, and Zebra expects to grow those sales to $50 million by the end of 2007. The WhereNet acquisition also gives Zebra another line of products to sell to the U.S. government, which is already a big customer of Zebra's bar-code and RFID printers.
The move signals a continuing trend toward consolidation in the active RFID sector. Last year, Lockheed Martin acquired active RFID provider Savi Technology.