The case for constructive disruption
By David P. Storey, Relm Wireless
Continual technological evolutions are not a trend that will disappear soon. They are the ongoing reality of our market economy and touch every aspect of our public and private lives. In most industries, this inexorable truth has meant tremendous ongoing and increasing benefits to end users, in terms of both performance and cost. But not all industries have benefited equally, and the LMR market is among them. It’s high time that it does—especially today, when the increasing need for preparedness is often met with declining agency budgets everywhere.
Product evolutions in most technology realms often surpass their predecessors, based on the idea that they have become more affordable. This year's product has all the performance and features of last year's and maybe more, but now costs less. Most of the digital world that we depend on is based on this paradigm and justifiably so. Faster-cheaper-better is always a compelling value proposition.
Some industries, out of natural self-interest, have been resistant to these facts-of-life evolutions. As just one noteworthy example, manufacturers of hearing aids cling to a business model that prices its most useful technologies beyond the budgets of many users who need them most. They stick with this eroding model even while competitive solutions that are equally advanced are already market-ready and poised to create major disruption to that industry. Technological status quos often are difficult to break, but they always do break—it's a matter of when, not if.
This resistance bears resemblance to the LMR market; again, this is particularly regrettable when there is such a growing need for public-safety preparedness, even as budgets are stretched in virtually every community and agency. Public safety and secure communications are not areas where compromises can be made.
However, this sector has evolved to the point where equipment offering highest-performance technology has become dramatically more accessible. This is reflective of the natural cost reductions that affect all digital technologies. As a result, there is no longer an artificial cost barrier to state-of-the-art communications for every agency that needs it—nor should there be.
Cheaper and better
Obviously, cost benefits are a boon to all users, but in a mission-critical context like LMR, it can't be achieved simply by cutting corners. This is a major reason why the LMR market traditionally has been so dominated by a single supplier. The conventional competitive approach that has been attempted by a handful of low-cost suppliers has kept their penetration marginal, because the products they offer have been built to the minimum-required performance parameters. In other words, they work as advertised, but only just.
The idea of investing in equipment designed for minimum requirements—i.e., “just good enough” —is not a choice that inspires confidence. This is crucially true when people's lives and public safety are on the line. Said another way, it is vital that both vendors and end-users work to implement what is possible, as opposed to what is merely required.
To accomplish this, an unconventional competitive approach is necessary. Rather than aiming the value proposition toward minimum performance and build requirements and presenting the result as a viable-cost alternative, the opposite must be done—i.e., products must meet and exceed the highest standards of performance and reliability. At the same time, they must be offered for a fraction of the status-quo pricing, but this can be accomplished due to natural cost-benefit evolutions in circuitry, engineering and manufacturing. The result is the best of both worlds—better and cheaper—and a market disruption that is as welcome as it is overdue.
It's axiomatic that technology becomes faster, better and more affordable as it continues to evolve. Those who depend on LMR technology should benefit from these obvious and established evolutions, which are not futuristic but here today. There is no longer any reason for an artificial split between what's desirable and what's pragmatic. It is no longer necessary to go with second-tier LMR solely because first-tier is out of reach.
David P. Storey is president and CEO of Relm Wireless Corp.