RFI was established in Australia in 1979 and now provides a range of mobile radio and cellular systems. The company is more focused on radio than cellular solutions and its manager of international sales, Kevin Booker, says maintaining a clear distinction between the two is important.
‘Our business and product [line] is more mobile radio-focused than cellular. That’s an important point as the two industries share similarities from a technology perspective, however, the drivers are very different,’ he says. ‘Our main markets are public safety, transportation, resources and utilities, and systems deployed in these areas have a differing purpose than a cellular network.’
Booker says keeping an open mind when it comes to using different technologies is crucial in order to match solutions to the needs of user organisations. ‘Open standards ultimately provide a far better value proposition for the user,’ he says. ‘The technology debate is healthy for ongoing development and innovation but market forces ultimately determine the technology. As a manufacturer of RF equipment, we are focused more on the RF functionality and therefore to a lesser extent on the technology. The technologies provide the challenge required to stay current in order to provide a suite of products that are essentially technology agnostic wherever we can.’
Having Australia as a home market has helped. ‘Being in business since 1979 based in Australia has provided us with an excellent platform,’ he adds.
‘The market in Australia is technically current and geographically diverse with a population of 22 million. The experience gained both locally and regionally has positioned us well for our entry into the US and European markets, where we see the expansion coming from in our business.’
Booker says that RFI’s Coverage Enhancement suite of products is the type of solution customers are seeking. ‘Maximising the network coverage is a priority for system operators as user expectation for ubiquitous coverage has become the major driver,’ he points out.
RFI’s communications business has three core product lines: mobile antennas, base station antennas and an active products portfolio. While Booker says that is important from a technological point of view because there is overlap between the products, each sector has different drivers. ‘Essentially the three overlap and complement each other, providing a far greater whole,’ he explains. ‘From a technology perspective, the requirements in each area tend to interleave, ultimately providing a good insight into the future market direction.’
That difference in demand also extends through to the markets being addressed. Booker acknowledges that enterprises, communications service providers, the public sector and real estate companies have different drivers to acquire wireless solutions.
‘Each of the segments have differing drivers. However, in the larger context, the required outcomes are quite similar,’ he adds. ‘Today’s systems are large investments which are expected to remain operational over a reasonably long time period. The measurement matrix used by each sector may differ but ultimately they are all requiring increased operational efficiency.’
The aftermath of the global recession has undoubtedly impacted the market, but Booker says that has manifested itself in the form of delayed decision making rather than outright project cancellation. ‘Most major systems have been in the planning stages for an extended period,’ he says.
‘The recession may have slowed the final decision in some cases but the major projects are typically tied to an identified need. We have seen some projects extend their decision timelines but most will go ahead. Cost is always a major consideration, as most networks do not have an accountable financial return and therefore their spend is closely scrutinised. The challenge we face is to ensure we are developing solutions which represent best value.’
Delivering those best value propositions is at the heart of the RFI philosophy. ‘We see our role as one of bringing greater value and in many cases the value that we bring is our knowledge, gained either through experience or the engineering base within our business,’ says Booker. ‘Business cases are not necessarily a major driver for our antenna lines as these items are typically components of the network. However, in the case of our coverage enhancement products the business case can be quite compelling, thus becoming a vital component of the process.’
The market has also moved on beyond the simple sale of products. Customers now require deals that encompass management, maintenance and deployment of the products, and Booker sees that service-oriented approach becoming more prevalent as organisations increasingly do without internally employed experts.
‘RFI’s service strategy has evolved with the industry,’ he explains. ‘Previously, systems were managed very much internally. However, this layer of expertise has been reduced, therefore greater levels of service and support are required. We’re able to tailor our service offering from design assistance through to final installation and commissioning.’
Booker sees identifying which market segments to pursue as the greatest challenge in the market at the moment. He’s actively looking to maximise RFI’s competencies in specific verticals while scanning other sectors for opportunities to sell products and services. Choosing which to devote resources to is a finely balanced challenge. ‘The wireless market has many growth opportunities, so getting it right is critical,’ he says.
Those opportunities include the big impact technological shifts of mobile radio systems moving to digital platforms and the cellular market moving to LTE.
‘LTE will provide us with new opportunities,’ adds Booker. ‘The market will continue to provide new challenges both from a technology and deployment perspective. The wireless world will also continue to evolve as newer applications come online. While many will employ similar technologies, they will provide challenges from a deployment perspective. The diversity is the challenge that we all need in order to ensure we are pushing the boundaries. That makes for an exciting future.’