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Fri 26 Mar 2010 12:00 AM

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Making waves

Broadcast and communications electronics developer Rohde & Schwarz has re-affirmed its commitment to the region with the opening of its new MEA HQ in Dubai. Digital Broadcast speaks to regional MD Vikas Eshwarahally about the company's long-standing relationship with the Middle East.

Making waves
Christian Leicher, president and COO, Rohde & Schwarz.
Making waves
Vikas Eshwarahally, Managing director, Rohde & Schwarz MEA.

Broadcast and communications electronics developer Rohde & Schwarz has re-affirmed its commitment to the region with the opening of its new MEA HQ in Dubai. Digital Broadcast speaks to regional MD Vikas Eshwarahally about the company's long-standing relationship with the Middle East.

Rohde & Schwarz (R&S) has played an integral role in the development of numerous broadcast and communication standards and technologies both within the Middle East and internationally. It was the first to develop GSM protocols, it manufactured the first test and measurement equipment for DVB-T and also built the first network for the terrestrial standard in the UK in 1998.

In the Middle East it played an integral role in the construction of the region's first DVB-H network in Qatar and is an active member of the consortium looking to rollout a similar service for the UAE.

"The network in Qatar has been up and running since last year", says Vikas Eshwarahally, managing director, Rohde & Schwarz Middle East and Africa. "Such a network comes with a lot of challenges not lest of all achieving full indoor coverage. Doha has many high rise buildings and customers expect to have coverage literally everywhere.

"R&S did the network planning and optimisation of the network in synchronous mode and it has been extremely well received by Qtel," says Eshwarahally adding that the network has met or exceeded the coverage requirements stipulated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

"R&S is also part of the DVB-H consortium in the UAE. The process has taken longer than initially thought. We have done the network planning for this across the whole UAE, the proposal is not just for Dubai."

"As far as technology development is concerned, we don't ever want to be second. We don't get involved when a technology arrives, we get involved when they are being discussed for the first time and we provide the tools to develop these," explains Eshwarahally.

Rohde & Schwarz has recently increased its presence in the region with the opening of new headquarters covering the Middle East and Africa in Dubai Media City.

"It's not just a symbolic gesture, we operate from the Middle East, we employ people from the region and make use of the competence in this market - the skilled labour force that is already present here and has experience working in the region - which ultimately has the benefit that we are very close to our customers," says Eshwarahally.

This statement is backed up by the string of success stories the company has achieved in the Middle East. It is also something Rohde & Schwarz is keen to build on in the future.

"We decided to expand these relationships with our local presence in UAE as headquarters for Middle East and Africa in order to provide our customers an improved level of support and service," said Christian Leicher, president and COO, R&S.

"We have also made a point of making use of the local skilled manpower available in the region. Additionally we have expanded our presence in other parts of the region, particularly in the Saudi Arabian and South African markets.

"Direct local presence enables better and faster service as well as support to our customers. In turn it enables us to have a better understanding of local markets and cultures which will help stabilise our business plans for the region. By taking these steps we also cement our commitment and trust in the markets in the Middle East and Africa," adds Leicher.

The company already had 60 employees in the UAE at its service subsidiary and has had a direct local presence for the past 15 years.

"In the years since we started we have grown our presence dramatically and we now operate from South Africa to Egypt, from the UAE to Jordan," says Eshwarahally. If we have people in the headquarters they need to be able to travel throughout the MEA region so we need to have the infrastructure here in terms of telecoms, transport, accommodation and other facilities. You also need to have the qualified manpower, it is not easy to find this everywhere in the region and these reasons drove us to choose Dubai."
The new HQ houses 20 staff at the moment in addition to the service staff with Eshwarahally revealing that this number could rise as high as 60 during the next two years.

"These hires will be across all departments. We are also in the process of establishing an office in Saudi Arabia, which has been one of our key markets. The UAE remains our biggest regional market. Saudi Arabia is one of the most stable for the broadcast and communication sector. One of the biggest success stories in the region has been our broadcasting business - we have won more or less all the turnkey projects in our field in Bahrain, UAE and Qatar during the past 12 months."

Despite the downturn - which has caused a slight reduction in revenues for R&S - the company has performed well with Eshwarahally attributing some of this success to the company's diverse portfolio and long history in the industry.

"The advantage for us has been that we have not relied on one particular area. We want to be the leader in every technology area that we operate in and the business is supported on four pillars; test and measurement, monitoring, broadcast and communications and this gives us a very stable base to overcome the current economic challenges," explains Eshwarahally.

"As a family-run business we have no debts with any bank. The company runs on its own operating income. Much of this is invested in research and development activities. This means that the company is essentially funding its own growth and development using its own capital. This is a healthy position to be in and has helped during the past 18 months. Trust has become a big issue in the industry. If clients are going to pay a big down payment they want to know where that money is going to go as the company may go bust tomorrow," he claims.

Eshwarahally has also seen a change in customers purchasing priorities in recent years as the downturn forces customers to scrutinise their outgoings more carefully before making major investments in new infrastructure.

"Rohde & Schwarz products are known as being high-end. Customers know that they are going to get high quality. The criteria that is used in Europe when selecting technology has involved looking at the life cycle cost of a product rather than just the initial price, and this is a key point. In the Middle East, we are now seeing all the customers revert to this way of thinking. They are looking carefully not just at the expense of procuring new infrastructure, but at the operating, maintenance and servicing costs over the lifetime of the product."

In some instances this has led the company to review some of its products and the way they are marketed, shifting more emphasis on to the long-term benefits.

"With our high power transmitters, we have had to look very hard at the power consumption. I believe that we now have the most efficient in the industry. When an operator is launching a network it is not just one transmitter, it could be as many as 1500. The additional cost of acquiring more efficient transmitters can be recouped within between five and seven years, purely from the energy savings. Reliable equipment also helps broadcasters to fulfil contracts with advertisers regarding signal quality and availability," says Eshwarahally.

"Typically their clients will insert clauses that require the broadcaster to guarantee that the channel is on air for a certain percentage of the time. Problems with the transmission network can cost them money directly as if they fail to meet these requirements, the advertiser will not pay the full rate.

"A more expensive but more reliable system can also cut maintenance expenses. When you consider how remote some of these locations are - particularly in a country such as Saudi Arabia - these costs can be very high."

Christian Leicher, president and COO, Rohde & Schwarz

We consider the Middle East and Africa as one of the most dynamic regions in the world offering a large business potential to R&S. There is a fast growing mobile industry and we see large investments in infrastructure projects, driven by a stable income from natural resources. By and large, demand has remained strong throughout the financial crisis.

Traditionally, we have strong partnerships in the region going back more than 25 years. They form the basis for long lasting and trustful relations with our customers and partners in the area.

R&S is present in more than 70 countries worldwide, most of which are served by local R&S subsidiaries. It is part of our core strategy to build long-term relationships with our customers around the world and to make a strong commitment to the markets we operate in. Therefore it is a quite natural step for the company to increase its commitment to this region by reinforcing the local presence with the new office in Dubai.

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