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Trimble Pays $496M For @Road

Trimble Navigation , maker of GPS-based navigation equipment for mobile devices, will pay $496 million for @Road . With the acquisition, Trimble enters the employee tracking field known as Mobile Resource Management (MRM).

As part of the definitive agreement, Trimble will pay $7.50 per share of @Road -- $5 in cash and $2.50 in cash and/or stock, according to the announcement. @Road will become part of Trimble's mobile services unit.

Trimble said the purchase makes sense for several reasons, including meshing with its current mobile field service management services, cost savings and increased access to telecom carriers, systems integrators and enterprise software providers.

The lure of MRM stems from its combined use of GPS technology, handheld computers and wireless carriers to provide companies a way to reduce costs, maximize field workforce efficiency and offer "just-in-time" inventory services.

According to Frost & Sullivan, tracking employees in the field will grow to a $2.6 billion market by 2010, up from $1.2 billion this year, Trimble said.

Winners in the MRM area will give businesses a way to optimize their workforces while offering more than basic tracking and dispatch software, Frost & Sullivan industry research manager Brent Iadarola, said in a statement.

Qualcomm and Sprint Nextel will be Trimble's competitors in the MRM space, Steve Berglund, Trimble's CEO, said during a conference call.

"The anticipated growth rates for MRM make this combination an attractive addition to the Trimble portfolio," Berglund said in a statement.

Berglund said @Road's enterprise customers reinforce previous investments within its mobile services group.

In a similar move, Trimble in November acquired Spacient Technologies, a privately held enterprise field service management and mobile mapping software maker with municipal and utilities customers. MRM can also be used by transportation, telecommunications and public works.

@Road wireless carrier partners include Sprint-Nextel, Cingular, Verizon and Alltel's and Canada's Telus Mobility.

[Trimble's] hardware business is becoming a niche," Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin said. GPS is increasingly built into more mobile devices, making today's agreement with @Road make even more sense.

Earlier this year Trimble inked an agreement with cell phone giant Nokia to cross-license patents. In exchange for licensing Trimble's Global Navigation Satellite System, Trimble gains access to Nokia's location-based technology.

In other news, Trimble said the acquisition of @Road will contribute between $80 million and $85 million of Trimble's $1.1 billion, according to a statement.

Trimble plans a Jan. 25, 2007, conference call to announce its fiscal 2007 guidance.