Joining SmartRail World for the latest 5 Minutes With… is Peter Härdi, CEO of Comlab. Comlab has offices in Switzerland, Austria, Germany and China, and develops and supplies powerful, reliable and secure high-frequency radio technology that includes channel and band selective repeaters, fibre optic converters, radio cables, radio interference jamming systems and antennas and surveillance software.
Peter talks to Dave Songer and gives details on their products, the digitisation that changed so much of the rail industry he knows and the threat posed by the growing proliferation of drones.
Dave Songer (DS): Thanks very much for joining me today, Peter. Perhaps you could begin with a description about what Comlab does?
Peter Härdi (PH): Yes of course, our major strength is the development and production of customer-specific radio technology systems based on standardised, modular products. The engineering, integration and commissioning of the customer-specific systems require not only significant technical expertise but also in-depth knowledge of the processes and standards as well as of the specific expectations of the customers. In line with our motto of “all services from a single source”, we also provide our customers with related services that enable us to supply them with tested turnkey systems.
We focus on the following three product groups:
- Repeaters: Amplification and transmission of operational and mobile radio signals in buildings and tunnels to ensure trouble-free reception.
- In-train repeaters: Amplification of mobile radio signals and their transmission in all areas of the entire train; our solutions facilitate interruption-free mobile telephone and internet reception for the passengers.
- Jamming systems: Modular, portable systems and convoy jamming systems to interrupt radio signals, in order to prevent bombs being detonated remotely or drones flying into specific areas.
DS: You’ve held the role of CEO at Comlab for a year and a half now, how has that gone?
PH: Our group has shown very positive development. 2017 was a record year in terms of the turnover achieved and 2018 looks also very promising. Furthermore, we have opened an office in Austria in addition to the existing subsidiaries we have in Germany and China. The driving force behind this growth is our highly-motivated team of experts. We are currently working on setting up the structures needed for further internationalisation outside of the countries mentioned above.
DS: What do you enjoy most about your role?
PH: That, as the CEO, I can make an impact quickly and effectively. Our group’s size is perfect for this. As an international small and medium-sized business we are, on the one hand, small enough to respond to customer needs in an uncomplicated way and within an appropriate timeframe. On the other hand, we’re also structured enough to ensure quality and social and environmental responsibility at all times. Large enterprises aren’t flexible enough for our market segments.
DS: Technology plays an intrinsic part in the rail industry, what do you think have been the biggest changes in this area over your career?
PH: Digitisation is the most obvious change, what with all the challenges for R&D it has brought in its wake. But also the increasingly short innovation cycles that don’t always match the cycles of the rail companies, which are more long-term in nature.
DS: Absolutely – where do you think the big changes will come in the future?
PH: The trend that I mentioned before will continue. Whereas the development of the operations-relevant radio systems (GSM, LTE-R and Tetra) are designed more for the long term – the innovation cycles for mobile radio technology are becoming increasingly shorter. It is important to offer systems that are capable of meeting both of these needs and requirements.
DS: What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced in your career?
PH: The international ICT industry, which I’ve worked in now for more than twenty years in a variety of managerial positions, has meant I’ve been faced with new demands and challenges on an almost daily basis, due to its rapid and disruptive development alone. It is (and always has been) important to overcome these challenges at an increasingly fast pace in order to successfully hold one’s ground in these quickly changing markets. My greatest professional challenge was, and is, to recognise the relevant trends and to adapt innovatively to them.
DS: Comlab extended its portfolio to include security systems in 2010, what services and products does the company supply in this area?
They are our intelligent jammers for personal security, site protection and drone defence offered by our jamming systems business unit. In this case I’m not only talking about the growing proliferation of privately used drones, which can pose a threat to public installations like airports, stadiums and correctional sites, but also about securing security critical meetings and heavily populated events against possible drone attacks.
Over the next few years I see our top business priorities as the process of internationalisation, including outside Europe, that we are continually pushing ahead with as well as closer cooperation with our Chinese subsidiary.
DS: Other than a Comlab product, is there a piece of technology or innovation that is really captured your imagination.
PH: With the risk of sounding a little old fashioned, I’m not a gadget freak. What fascinates me and still captures my imagination over and over again is the evolvement of internet-based technologies and the constant flow of innovations which capitalises on the ever-rising possibilities the ‘net’ or the global data highway, if you will. In our private and cultural evolvement – as well as with respect to new business opportunities – there is an endless bonanza of new developments, and with it a constant challenge to cope with developments in a creative, sensitive and productive way.
DS: Excellent, thanks Peter. We wish Comlab all the best for the future.
If you enjoyed reading this interview with Peter, why not check out the last edition with Ian Wright, head of insight at Transport Focus.
Would you like to get involved in this feature? This informal feature gives our readership the chance to get to know more about the personalities behind the industry, what it is that inspires them and where they see the industry heading. Get in touch with Dave Songer: firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.