20 years ago: An industry veteran looks back again
Twenty years ago, Pat Weisner (MRT’s co-owner and publisher at the time) asked me to write for the first issue of Mobile Radio Technology. He wanted a retrospective comparing 1982 equipment to previous two-way radio transceivers. I began work as an installer in my mid-teens, so by 1982, that gave me 20 years of experience. Pat titled the article, “An Industry Veteran Looks Back.” If I was an industry veteran in 1982, what am I now with 40 years of experience, an industry has-been?
By then, semiconductors had replaced tubes for all but high-power applications, synthesized radios were emerging, and products were getting smaller. With today’s surface-mount devices, microprocessors and RF technology advancements, radios are shrinking even more. Crystals, once widely used for discrete frequency selection, now mostly serve fixed oscillators and time bases. A 5W single-channel UHF radio that once would have weighed 50 pounds and filled the trunk of my car now fits in my pocket and has thousands of frequencies and functions.
Some companies of 20 and 40 years ago continue in one form or another, and others are long gone. The basic products have steadily come down in size and price. Marketing expertise has not replaced technical competence, but it is more important with increased competition and the need to sell five times the product for equivalent 1982 income in inflated dollars.
Mom-and-pop two-way shops have gone the way of the local TV repair store. Increased product reliability has reduced maintenance income, once a staple of their business. Where once were radio experimenters, now are entrepreneurs. “Mega-providers” of push-to-talk and telephone interconnect service (Nextel, cellular and PCS) have increased the competition. However, the increased demand for communications and associated wireless services also has greatly increased the market size.
I am still with the same company after 25 years, but my job is not the same as when I started the company. Successful people in our industry continue selling wireless solutions, but not the same ones. Frequencies that we thought had minimal value are now in daily use. Many users have embraced emerging markets, including wireless Internet access. Expertise in point-to-point communications has provided more opportunities in microwave. It’s not your Dad’s analog microwave, but new spread-spectrum and digital solutions.
Yes, Mr. or Ms. Two-Way Person, there is life after Nextel. You just need to go with the flow and apply your RF expertise to the next generation of products.