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Industry News

The Year That Was…

December 7, 2011
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My hometown of Newburyport is located by the ocean at the mouth of the Merrimac River in the upper eastern corner of Massachusetts. Exploiting its natural resources, the first settlers were naturally fisherman. As larger and more commercially successful fishing communities took root in Gloucester and New Bedford, the city transitioned into a ship-building hub, designing and manufacturing the fast clipper ships needed to rapidly transport tea from China and the East Indies to Britain and the world in the 19th century.

Then, as now, being first to market was essential to business success. And so, trade merchants needed faster, more efficient commercial vessels capable of a global reach, all design features of the Newburyport Clipper ships. But eventually, the ship building business migrated to larger labor markets, such as Portsmouth, Boston, New York and beyond. With little land to farm, many inhabitants parlayed their knowledge of building and working on trade ships into careers as merchants and traders. Today, many of the city's residents carry on the global merchant tradition as business people seeking opportunities around the world.

I keep this history in mind when considering our own industry's need to evolve and seek opportunities wherever they might be located. The global economy is not a new concept. Many microwave companies have been building their off-shore business for years. What is new is the introduction of a unified microwave industry marketing channel under the Microwave Journal brand, specifically for companies doing business in China.

In November, we announced the launch of Microwave Journal China, a bi-monthly magazine in simplified Chinese available in print and electronically. It will provide this market with articles and product information from international companies as well as local interest news and events. Publisher Carl Sheffres and I travelled to the 6th Annual International Microwave and Antenna Exhibition (IME 2012) in Shanghai to promote the new publication with a 20-page preview magazine. The response from Chinese engineers and international companies in attendance was overwhelmingly positive.

With tens of millions of new cellular subscribers in China each year, utilizing networks that operate from 2G to 4G, the demand for hardware is immense and the technical challenges are not trivial. In short, this is a market looking to be served. But it is also one that has its fair share of business obstacles and pitfalls. With a dedicated Microwave Journal China media outlet, we hope to significantly reduce communication barriers between supplier and engineer. As an industry, I believe we can leverage our combined strength to open up new opportunities for all. We always have in the past.

Of course, connecting technology companies to end-users is a concern throughout the industry and we saw some interesting trends in 2011. I am pleased that most microwave companies recognized the value of technical content and choose to market their products through a constructive technical discussion with their prospective customers. This conversation took many forms in 2011. On the editorial side, we experienced a healthy uptick in companies willing to submit articles detailing their technological advances.

This editorial influx was in addition to the steady stream of product features, new product announcements and tech briefs we frequently receive. We also published 50 online exclusive white papers this year. Less prolific writers still managed to stay in front of their intended audience with meaningful print advertising. I applaud everyone who produced ads that caught readers' attention while educating them. Never underestimate how much the industry stays informed by gazing at ads while thumbing through Microwave Journal.

Connecting at an even higher level requires a conversation between presenter and audience. This past year, we saw an increase in microwave companies exploring new ways to hold conversations with their customers. For instance, the number of webinars with question and answer sessions doubled in 2011 over the previous year. This format was not restricted to webinars. This year, Microwave Journal organized expert forums on nonlinear device characterization (IMS MicroApps), MIMO over-the-air testing (CTIA Wireless) and Defence & Security (European Microwave Week). We believe smaller, focused expert forums are of increasing importance to RF/microwave engineers who want to stay well-informed on the latest technologies, applications and market opportunities. Look for more of them in 2012.

Of course, our industry does not operate in a vacuum and global events can have a pesky way of impacting our fate. The Tea Party-led victories of last year's mid-term election have the US government nearly grinding to a halt every other month as a divided Congress argues over spending. On the brink of letting the whole system collapse, we wait to see who blinks first – cuts to defense or entitlement spending or higher taxes for corporations and the top one percent (those scorned by Occupy Wall-Street empathizers). Meanwhile, Europe's financial house has yet to find terra firma due to the fiscal woes of its economically weak members. Ah well, it is all part of an evolving world. Change is constant, just as it was for the 19th century inhabitants of Newburyport – adapt or perish.

Consider one of the biggest events of the year – the "Arab Spring." Forget about bringing democracy to the Middle East by way of shock and awe, it was the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor that sparked public uprisings that brought down dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya and threatens those in Yemen and Syria. To be sure, the efforts of the former rebels in Libya would not have succeeded in getting rid of Muammar Gaddafi without NATO's technology and firepower providing support. Likewise, technology by way of UAV surveillance provided the necessary intelligence to make the Navy Seals successful in their operation to take out Osama Bin Laden.

Military strategists saw this dynamic at play and coined the term "asymmetric warfare." The asymmetric nature of today's battlefield can be a threat or a weapon depending on how planners engage their adversaries. The lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan showed that technology and brute strength alone do not ensure success. And so defense spending is undergoing a transformation.

According to the market research presented by Strategy Analytics in our Defence & Security Forum at EuMW, the military is interested in strengthening the capabilities of its electronics systems specifically for this new kind of engagement. Accordingly, budgets will look to upgrade systems with an emphasis on being cheaper, faster and better. Delivering on these requirements may spare your business from a devastating downturn in future defense spending cuts. If not, perhaps you should look to the emerging commercial markets in China.

The take-away is this – technology and individual effort make the difference to bring about change. Waiting for opportunities is not the same as actively seeking them. Take stock in your strengths, be knowledgeable of the changes taking place globally, align the two and let's take on the world.

Newburyport is a quintessential New England seaport town with a beautiful natural setting and rich history as one of America's oldest cities. The story of Newburyport's restoration to its former glory after many years of stagnation and urban blight is captured in this 1974 documentary of the revitalization of the city's downtown and community efforts to preserve its heritage.
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Recent Articles by David Vye, Microwave Journal Editor

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