Kenwood president talks TETRA, P-25 and politics
With a multicultural ceremony that included a sake toast and a ribbon cutting, Kenwood Communications opened the doors of its new corporate headquarters in Atlanta on Oct. 12. After the ceremony that marked the company’s move from Long Beach, CA, Kenwood Communications President Tom Wienland sat down with MRT to discuss changes in the LMR industry.
MRT: How will the new headquarters improve service to Kenwood dealers?
Wineland: By allowing us to increase our staffing. We’re increasing staffing in R&D for product development. And in sales and marketing for better programs and more active participation in things directly with the dealers.
MRT: Any new programs related to that?
Wineland: We hope to develop new programs based on adding new staff and coming up with new innovative ideas.
MRT: What’s the timetable for that?
Wineland: Soon. I think the dealers will be seeing things like that rolling out from this point forward. Our fiscal year runs from April through March. We’re just starting the second half of our fiscal year, and we expect to start showing these things over the next three to six months.
MRT: How does Kenwood Systems fit into the organization? Does it contribute to the company’s ability to sell equipment in the business and industrial, and public safety segments?
Wineland: Well, actually, it does both. The systems company is 100% Kenwood-owned. We felt that the systems business is a little more of a – not more technical – but a longer development cycle, and we felt that it would be better served being separate and operating separate. What you said before was true, the basis behind it is to develop and implement systems for future radio loading. And they do public safety systems, basic SMR systems in plants. Any place someone needs point-to-point communications, they can go to our systems company for solutions.
MRT: Are there any systems that you’re currently developing with public safety agencies.
Wineland: Nothing that I can address right now.
MRT: How does Kenwood’s business strategy differ in approaching the public safety market vs. the business and industrial market?
Wineland: Well it really doesn’t. We try to listen to the customer, and provide a communications solution tailored to his needs. We do the same thing in the B&I portion of the market. We let the customer tell us what he needs, we try to listen, rather than talk, and then provide them with the best solution possible.
MRT: In light of the current lawsuit Motorola has filed in connection with Com-Net Ericsson recently winning the Florida public safety communications bid, do you have any observations or comments on the relative difficulty of selling equipment against Motorola? Do you ever consider the possibility of litigation in such an instance?
Wineland: No, absolutely not. The situation that developed in Florida isn’t new, it has just gotten a lot more publicity. So we consider ourselves to be big boys now, and this is a big boy’s game. If we feel that we’re in position to bid on a specific contract, we’ll go after that contract with everything we’ve got, and hopefully we’ll be the one to win it.
MRT: What do you estimate your market share to be?
Wineland: You know, it’s really difficult because Motorola’s so dominant. The best that we can do is say that we feel at this point that we’re a clear #2.
MRT: Have you considered acquiring any companies, or are you concentrating on internal growth?
Wineland: I don’t think we’ve ruled that out. If we were to see any opportunity that we felt would enhance our position in the market, yes, but we’ve traditionally been a company that grows from within, so we can plan and strategize each movement to the next plateau ourselves. But like I said, that doesn’t mean that if we’re in position to move to that next plateau, and we see an easier route to get there that would still allow us to maintain our company directives and our company goals and ways of doing business, then we would consider something like that. But presently, those opportunities haven’t presented themselves.
MRT: Switching gears, what does Kenwood see as its role in the sale of TETRA products in North America?
Wineland: Obviously, we’re a global communications manufacturer and supplier, and I think it’s pretty obvious that TETRA has a very well-established position in Europe, so that goes hand-in-hand with being a world-wide supplier. We’re watching very closely what’s been going on domestically with the North American TETRA Forum, and we’re interested in that technology. We believe that an open protocol type of technology is important to the U.S. public safety base, so we’re looking very favorably in that direction. We haven’t made any official commitments, but I would say as long as it’s an open protocol, it would be something we’re interested in.
MRT: Do you see TETRA usurping P-25 and taking over the market?
Wineland: That’s a tough call. Obviously there’s been a lot of groundwork and development with P-25, and TETRA has only recently been knocking on the door. I think our position, again, is to let the customer decide. If the customer demand becomes such that they require something beside or in addition to APCO-25, then our responsibility as a top-of-the-line manufacturer is to provide that solution. So we would consider that to be our obligation to the market.
MRT: Have you been hearing any rumblings from your customers about wanting TETRA or wanting to move in that direction?
Wineland: You hear it more and more, yes. A year ago it was just a few, and now I think it’s been spurred on by the situation in New York, but that just started to open people’s ears and eyes to what’s been going on, so there’s been more and more interest in it. I think that’s a natural progression. As it develops itself more in Europe, people read and see more things about it, and they become more interested in it, and they do a little more investigation and they say “Hey, this is a pretty robust protocol. Why can’t we get it here?”
MRT: Any plans to partner with another manufacturer to make Kenwood’s North American dealer network available to distribute another company’s TETRA equipment?
Wineland: We hold our dealer base very, very tightly. That’s one of the strengths of Kenwood and why we’ve grown so well in the market. We are very firmly dedicated to our dealer base, and we feel we’re the best manufacturer to serve them, so no, we ferverishly protect them. I think the reason we’re successful today is because we’ve taken that direction. Many manufacturers have lost their way, had a change in direction, and we’ve stayed focused and dedicated to our land mobile dealer base from the beginning. And because we’ve done that, I think is the reason we’ve continued to grow and others have fallen aside.
MRT: Which technologies do you see as having the greatest potential for helping your business grow?
Wineland: Obviously digital. Any digital product. That’s the future. Because better frequency usage makes good business sense besides being mandated. But I think that, if you listen to what the dealers say that the customers are telling them. You need to provide a broader range of services, and do that, we try to stay on top of changes in the market. If we can’t adapt and provide those types of services, then our customers will go elsewhere.
MRT: Have you been watching the presidential debates? Does Kenwood have any vested interest in either of these candidates getting into office?
Wineland: I think both candidates are very business-friendly. I don’t think that will make any difference. They realize that as long as the economy is doing well, they’ll stay in office.