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Executive Interview: Roland Steffen, Executive VP for T&M at Rohde & Schwarz

Founded in 1933, Rohde & Schwarz has developed technologies, forged a global presence and continues to innovate

Roland Steffen

Roland Steffen is the Executive Vice President of Test and Measurement and Vice President of Market Segment Wireless Communications at Rohde & Schwarz.

Rohde & Schwarz was founded in 1933. Briefly outline its early history and subsequent development.

It all started at the university in Jena, Germany, in the late 1920s, where two young physics students became acquainted and soon discovered a mutual fascination with radio frequency technology. In 1933 they established a company in a Munich apartment with just 120 m2 of floor space. “Physikalisch-Technisches Entwicklungslabor Dr. L. Rohde und Dr. H. Schwarz” — PTE or Physical-Technological Development Laboratory — the initial name of the Rohde & Schwarz company, was born.

Many milestones in the company’s history are also chapters in the history of technology, including the first portable crystal clock in 1938, Europe’s first VHF FM transmitter in 1949, and in 1950 the first vector network analyzer. About 30 years ago we launched our first spectrum analyzer and grew the business to the current market share of more than 30 percent. We developed the first cell phone certification system — the GSM system simulator in 1991 — and today we are the leader in testing cellular phones. Until the early 1980s, our main focus was on Europe, but in recent decades we have developed a global footprint with subsidiaries in over 70 countries.

How has Rohde & Schwarz developed in recent years?

Today, Rohde & Schwarz is a leading global solution provider in all of our fields of activity. The electronics group is strategically based on five pillars: test and measurement (T&M), broadcast and media, cybersecurity, secure communications, monitoring and network testing. The company supports manufacturers of electronic equipment in development and production with top quality, highly precise T&M systems. Rohde & Schwarz test and measurement expertise is involved in half of all mobile phones in the world today, either on the development side or in manufacturing. In broadcasting, the company has established itself as a market leader with a full range of transmission and measuring equipment.

As an independent, family-owned company, Rohde & Schwarz has grown organically, and we now have approximately 10,000 employees globally, with about 6,000 of these working in Germany. The group achieved a net revenue of EUR 1.92 billion in the 2015/2016 fiscal year..

What is the basic philosophy of the company and has it changed over the years?

Rohde & Schwarz stands for continuity and innovative creativity — the key elements of our corporate culture — but at the same time we focus on people. So while we aim to maintain the highest engineering standards, we also have a work environment that is characterized by individual responsibility and mutual respect and appreciation.

In a similar way, it is also our philosophy to ensure that our development and production remain in close geographical proximity to one another. Most of our production takes place near the development teams at our Munich headquarters, in the Memmingen and Teisnach plants and in Vimperk in the Czech Republic. Our Singapore and Malaysia production plants also keep production close to development at our Asian headquarters. This mix of production and development, people and technology is a feature of all our operations and enables us to launch 300 new products and product enhancements each year.

How much emphasis does the company put on research and development, and where is your R&D located?

Rohde & Schwarz invests about 15 percent of revenue into R&D. In Munich and Singapore, we develop complete products, with important contributions from the development labs in the USA, China, South Korea, Denmark, France, Great Britain and Romania, each of which has its own core competencies.

Is this strategy particularly evident in any specific geographic markets?

We have outstanding products anyway, and that is providing growth figures that are ahead of the rest of the market. However, we are seeing significant potential in Asia and North America, and we can support this with our development sites in Singapore and the USA.

In an era when the environment is a key consideration, what is the company’s policy on sustainability?

Environmental protection and sustainability are very important to us. We see it as our environmental responsibility to consider the entire product life cycle, from development to production to take-back. We also take environmental protection very seriously, in terms of all our business processes and the way we manage our company locations. One example of our environmentally-friendly product design is the power consumption of our current generation of TV transmitters. They consume 25 percent less power than the previous generation, which already had an excellent reputation for power efficiency. On the process side, examples of our environmentally influenced operations include optimized logistics and an assessment of suppliers to ensure that they have a functioning environmental management system in place.

Explain Rohde & Schwarz’ involvement with academic institutions and its work to encourage the progression of engineering students.

We conduct fundamental research in cooperation with a number of universities. A recent example is our cooperation with the Institute of Microwaves and Photonics (LHFT) at the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg on the development of the R&S QPS200 security scanners for airport security checks.

Encouraging talented students is also very important to us. To attract young, qualified students to Rohde & Schwarz, we regularly invite university students to visit and get to know us. We also host an annual engineering competition. Launched in 2004 as a local event, it has since developed into an international case study competition. Last year students participated from universities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the USA and Singapore.

How important is the automotive market to Rohde & Schwarz and what technologies are coming to the fore?

The automotive market is very important to us. Our T&M expertise is used for testing many vehicle applications, including infotainment and driving assistance systems, audio and video components and wireless communications equipment. Rohde & Schwarz is a member of the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA). The goal here is to gain early insight into technological developments and play an active part in shaping the market. We also participate in the vehicle-to-X task force within the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance. We hope this will provide us with an early understanding of the technology potential and the market.

Driven by the automotive market, we expect to see major developments in the field of radar testing. In particular, developments in autonomous vehicles will place new requirements on car sensor technology and communications equipment, and these will need to be tested. With this in mind, we recently joined the "Providentia" project with other partners such as BMW and Audi. In this project, highly automated vehicles with state-of-the-art sensors are put onto the digital test highway and exposed to traffic situations.

The work we are doing on radar testing and sensor technology is filtering through to our aerospace and defense business, where our focus is on radar and satellite communications.

Oscilloscopes are a relatively new product for you. How is this product sector developing for Rohde & Schwarz?

Ever since we entered the market in 2010, our goals have been to consistently expand our portfolio and steadily win market share. We focus on offering complete solutions, for example, base units with appropriate probes and related applications, including all necessary accessories. Last year we again expanded our range by adding such products as a fully insulated handheld scope and a number of software options that significantly increase the areas of application for our products. We are naturally working to further expand our product portfolio, including adding higher bandwidths. A completely new offering is a 6 GHz model of the extremely powerful R&S RTO2000 series of lab oscilloscopes. Their ability to handle multi-domain applications makes these compact units perfect for Internet of Things (IoT) applications. They are also ideal for the increasingly important power integrity measurements.

R&S has become a recognized high-end provider in the oscilloscope market, and you recently extended your product portfolio into the entry-level segment. What are your plans in this market?

The entry-level segment of the oscilloscope market is very important to us. We want to continue to grow, open up new markets and intensify our international activities. Our primary focus is on the global expansion of our channel partner network. More than 100 channel partners now sell our products.

But there are also new products, and we recently introduced the R&S RTB2000 oscilloscope and R&S FPC1000 spectrum analyzer. Both of these are entry-level products aimed at addressing the needs of customers in research and education, industry and production. Both instruments offer an outstanding price/performance ratio. Our features, which include some of our RF expertise, outstrip the competition, yet our prices are comparable.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an independently-owned company operating in the 21st century commercial marketplace?

As an independent, privately-owned company, we can plan in the long term without having to think in terms of quarters. A good example is the development of the R&S QPS200 security scanner, which tapped into a completely new market segment for us. It uses millimeter wave technology to automatically detect whether individuals are carrying potentially dangerous objects. The R&S QPS200 represents more than just its entry into a market with enormous growth potential for us — it also demonstrates our strengths in innovation and ability to think outside the box.

How is the company planning for the next era of growth?

Our first priority is to maintain and grow our market leadership in wireless and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) measurement equipment. At the same time, we want to establish ourselves as a full-range provider. This is why we entered the oscilloscope market, are continually expanding our portfolio and steadily growing our market share. We are also positioning ourselves more strongly in the lower price segment with appropriate products. Developments in wireless communications such as LTE-Advanced, 5G and IoT are opening up new growth fields for us, and we are well positioned here, since we have the necessary technology for the new 5G components. Due to our leading position in LTE, we are also able to offer our customers the best possible support when migrating to 5G.

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