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Laird Technologies Expands Antenna Business

Laird Technologies, a unit of UK-based Laird PLC (which was itself initially founded as a shipbuilding company back in the 1800s) was created in 1996 as a result of the company's acquisition of the Advanced Performance Materials division of Monsanto Inc.

Monty Rohde, Laird Technologies' director of product management, says that acquisition gave the company the technology behind flexible gasketing material for communications enclosures. "We sell a lot of that type of gasketing today to the plasma TV industry, because they shield the screens from EMI—and that's where we got into the RF business," he says.

The company entered the antenna market in 2004 with the acquisition of Centurion Wireless, followed by the acquisition of both RecepTec and Antenex in 2006, of AeroComm and Cushcraft in 2007, and of Ezurio in 2008. "We've continued to bolt on additional wireless entities that make sense to our business and our strategy going forward," Rohde says.

As part of that process, Laird has increased its focus on wireless technology while divesting other assets, such as its Security Systems Division. "That sounds high tech, but it was really hardware for doors and windows, locks and doorknobs and hinges, things like that, so it really didn't fit with…where Laird wanted to go," Rohde says. "So that freed up some cash to continue on our path on the technology front."

Over 12,000 SKUs

Laird Technologies' vast catalog of wireless antenna products and related accessories now includes every product line obtained in its acquisitions, including antennas and accessories from Pacific Wireless, which itself had been acquired by Cushcraft back in 2005. "We really cover almost every application that's out there," Rohde says.

That includes antennas from 100 MHz to 6 GHz. "Every protocol and frequency in there we have a product for, and then form factors from surface mount antennas all the way to sector base station antennas that are put up on towers. I would say, as a company, we probably have over 12,000 different SKUs of antennas that we can bring to the table," Rohde says.

While Pacific Wireless was initially the most WISP-focused of the company's product lines, Rohde says the company now targets WISPs with antennas from other lines, as well. "Cushcraft and Centurion and Antenex all had very nice product lines, so some of those are being sold into our WISP business, and some of our products in our WISP business now are being sold to OEMs as well," he says.

Following each acquisition, Rohde says, a brand is typically maintained as it is for a period of time, then eventually merged into the Laird Technologies brand. "It all depends on how strong the brand was in the industry, so you'll see a lot of things branded as Pacific Wireless/Cushcraft/Laird, but it is being blended over time to become one product under the Laird name," he says.

And the company's acquisitions are likely to continue. "Laird is a target-shooting company when it comes to grabbing the right acquisition at the right time at the right price, and we're also pretty good at integrating acquisitions," Rohde says. "Every acquisition's different, of course, but I think Laird is very good at recognizing the identity of an acquisition company and making sure that that doesn't get lost."

Product differentiators

All Laird Technologies products are covered by a one-year warranty, with an RMA required prior to return. "We have very good relationships with our customers, and dealing a lot with the biggest names in the communications industries has kept us at the forefront of understanding how to manage customer expectations appropriately," Rohde says. "In short, we stand behind what we provide."

That said, Laird doesn't necessarily strive to offer the cheapest solution available. "We're a very competent supplier with very strong technical solutions," Rohde says. "We're not the low-cost guy in every single market, but we are a value play in that if you need a very low-performing, very cheap antenna, we've probably got something in our repertoire that would fit, but that's not really our forte."

Instead, Rohde says, the focus is on functionality. "We use a lot of specialized, in-house software tools to design our high performance antennas," he says. "For example, some of our sector antennas for WiMAX will cover the full 3.3 to 3.8 GHz range, where a lot of our competitors have to use two antennas to cover that—and our antennas are typically a little smaller for the same performance envelope."

The point, Rohde says, is that with antennas—like with everything else—you get what you pay for. "There's enough black magic, if you will, in antennas that it really takes a very strong contingent of RF engineers to differentiate yourself from the competition," he says. "And I think we have the strongest team I've ever seen."

Article courtesy of ISP-Planet.com.