Rainer Grob is an engineer and owner of Nova Funk Engineering AG, mobile comms specialists in Lucerne, Switzerland. He talks to Connection Magazine about the changes he has seen over his career, and Switzerland’s unique communications environment.
Rainer Grob’s passion for radio goes back to his early years; even as a child, he identified electronic engineering as a hobby, and soon learned to fix and adapt portable devices to increase their performance. This lead to summer holiday internships at a small radio vendor shop nearby, and later, as a radio engineer with the Swiss military, he studied electronic engineering at NTB Interstaatliche Hochschule für Technik Buchs University.
“In 1993, the owner of the shop I interned in decided to sell his business. I bought it, and founded Nova Funk Engineering AG.”
In those early days, the business sold radios to construction companies, ski fields, firefighters and road workers. In 1997, Nova Funk established a dealership with Tait.
“Over the years since then, we have put Tait radio systems into fire departments, bank security companies, military, power plants, road service, public transport, mountain railways, chemical plants and refineries, taxi companies and many more,” Rainer says.
“I built a five site analog simulcast system for Credit Suisse bank”, he recalls. It involved a scanner for underground channels, and ran specialized, dedicated, custom firmware.
“This was the early days of the internet, and during the night while I was asleep, my computer would download the Tait firmware from the other side of the world. Next morning, I would test it. We repeated the process until everything ran perfectly.”
Switzerland’s small size, high technology uptake and concentrated population distribution creates a unique communications environment. Without the broad coverage distances many other nations contend with, it boasts a world-beating mobile network. However, Rainer has a clear vision of the part that radio continues to play.
“It’s a fact that mobile users don’t want to use radio, whereas radio users don’t want to use mobile. Today, a lot of IT guys are involved in radio communication, and many would like to change to mobile. Mobile phones with apps are years ahead of radio, and in Switzerland the GSM mobile network is really good.”
Fortunately for radio, usability and reliability remain the leading purchase deciders. “Reality proves again and again that users actually can’t work with mobile when it comes to reliable infrastructure.” he says.
Voice communication continues to be very important in this market, and he emphasizes that Tait voice quality is unbeatable. “Potential customers just need to listen, to understand the value.” he says.
Nova Funk customers are very aware of the promise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and communications convergence. “They want it, but they don’t really know yet the current reality and the promise for the future,” he says. “As a vendor today, we have an eye on the future but we also need to satisfy customer needs with what they trust today. Personally, I think it will be five years before we truly experience seamless communication in this market.”
That said, he acknowledges the place that IoT and smart cities already hold in Switzerland. For example, buses not only transport passengers, but also trace air pollution.
Making use of data generated through critical communication systems is an area where Nova Funk sees business opportunity in future. “Platform-based businesses, such as Uber and Airbnb have already transformed some industries, and so I believe that the future of critical communication will impact on the way we as partners and radio vendors will do business in future. There are definitely new opportunities on the horizon.” he explains.
And where does Rainer Grob see Nova Funk in the future? “We build pretty big systems but our country is small, so I guess that is relative. We constantly invest in education – not just around products, but also more broadly, such as IoT with 5G and LTE. In any case, I want Nova Funk to stay ahead of the game, to keep delivering high quality solutions to our customers – no matter if it’s mobile, radio or both. I definitely want to continue to offer top quality voice performance, and a brand as recognizable as Tait, now and in the future.”
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