Global Innovators | Spotlight | TelecomDrive.com
Innovation is perhaps the most critical element for survival of any organization. Innovation is all about doing something in a new way or applying existing techniques in a new domain – innovation is something that drives us beyond the boundaries of imagination.
Jean-Pierre Harel, Innovation Labs Manager at RFS is playing a critical role towards delivering the much needed innovation for the company and expanding the envelope of possibilities in the Active Passive Antenna space.
As part of our Global innovators series – TelecomDrive.com interacts with Jean-Pierre about his personal journey, his idea of innovation and why it is important for the industry.
Professional Profile – Pushing the Boundaries of Imagination
How do you define innovation today and why do you think it is important for an organization of your nature?
Innovation is pre-emptive problem solving. It is working out the challenges that the industry will face and developing solutions to head them off. Working in the telecoms space, innovation is absolutely critical to the survival of the company. With the advent of 5G and IoT the future of telecoms is more exciting than ever before, and the hurdles that we will face on the road to that vision will be the catalyst for the innovation we will see over the next five years.
RFS is a company with over 100 years’ heritage in the telecoms space and the reason we have seen continued success is that innovation is the life blood of the organisation. With increased competition in the industry the choice we, and our competitors, face is ‘innovate or perish’ and of course we have chosen the first option.
Please share details of the innovation that you are driving or have been an integral part of?
One of the biggest innovations at RFS at the moment is the development of our Active Passive Antenna (APA). The APA combines the passive components needed for legacy frequency transmissions with the active components needed for instance for 3.5 GHz mMIMO transmissions in 5G networks in a single product.
The idea was developed in 2017 and initially seemed like an impossible task, to combine and consolidate two products that were already designed to be as compact as possible. However this is the key to R&D – where most people would say ‘forget it’ a good team starts with the difficult question and develops and builds answers to create the solution to a seemingly impossible task. This was certainly the case with the APA, but by continuing to push boundaries we were first to market with this type of product launching at MWC 2018.
Why is this innovation important for your organization and your end customers?
Consolidation of equipment is a trend we are now seeing across the industry as growing demand for services means operators need the infrastructure to deliver this. That said, a forest of antennas is just not possible within cell site restrictions and the technology being deployed therefore must provide the answer to this challenge.
At RFS we have concentrated on achieving this within the exact same form factor as existing passive multiband antennas. As any changes to the antennas on a cell site throw up potential problems we combined active elements into existing passive antennas to avoid renegotiation challenges. In many cases delivering the infrastructure for 5G will need to be done by stealth, increasing the capabilities of equipment without making notable changes to its visibility.
The APA is a perfect example of this in action and is part of a range of solutions that allow operators to stealthily introduce 5G capabilities into their network. It is an innovation that does not compromise on performance and introduces modularity, allowing operators to modify and physically upgrade some antenna hardware on-site, building futureproofing into the infrastructure.
How did you conceive the idea for this innovation?
Innovation needs several factors; freedom, resources, a range of perspectives, support, encouragement, and most importantly a challenge to solve.
The innovation team was presented with a problem that seemed impossible, combining two already compact products into a single antenna. We then brainstormed as many possible solutions as we could before proceeding with the one that showed the most promise. Another key component needed for innovation is risk, by being prepared to fail we were able to pursue any idea, not just the safest option and then reap the rewards.
Please share details of some of the big or small difficulties / challenges that you faced while carving out this innovation for your company?
For the APA, it was a real technical challenge. When dealing with equipment that works on different frequencies, interference is always a problem. When you put the equipment into a single product, that challenges are amplified.
The success of the APA involved several stages. The initial idea and product development to make an antenna theoretically capable of solving the challenge we were presented with and then fine tuning the product to make it work as a commercial product.
When it comes to innovation, there isn’t a single, perfect solution as most likely, this doesn’t exist. The key is to come up with several ways to solve the issue and then consider which compromises are acceptable to deliver the best solution to the problem.
What does the future hold for this innovation now? How relevant will this innovation be in the coming years? Please share the roadmap for this innovation?
Consolidation will be a big trend for the telecoms industry. Increasing throughput while decreasing the size of product will be essential as 5G is rolled out. For RFS we are very much focused with the challenges our customers face and the roadmap for the product focuses on developing the APA so it works commercially for operators. This includes developments such as making all our passive antennas upgradable to APAs to enable gradual 5G roll out that can be easily installed.
The APA is very much a blueprint for the consolidated infrastructure of the future and so we will continue to build on this and solve the problems.
Please share details of some of the technologies / solutions where you are working on now and from where future innovation is likely to emerge?
5G is a highly anticipated technology, however, the challenge will be creating the infrastructure to support it without cities becoming overrun with antennas. Innovation will come from thinking of new ways to make equipment work harder.
Creating solutions that do just this is a big priority at RFS as we add to our range of ‘stealth 5G’ solutions that combine performance with low weight, space and visual impact.
Please share details about your life outside of work?
Outside of work my first priority is my family, however beyond this I have a keen interest in music and play piano and guitar. For me having interests outside of work is essential as focused knowledge and experience is often the enemy of innovation.
In what way do you think your time outside of work helps to inspire innovation at RFS?
Music in particular is great for relaxing the brain. Diversity is a huge part of innovation and so it’s essential to have interests outside of work to ensure that I remain as open and broadminded as possible. Without this, innovation wouldn’t get out of the starting blocks.
Creating innovation is not that easy – one has to look beyond the horizon, so what are some of the tools that have helped you personally when it comes to innovation?
Knowing that we do not know the answer – by using this as the starting point and building the answers from there is key. Additionally, the most important element of innovation in a company is culture. Having the right foundation and open-mindedness is what allows innovation at RFS.
Personally, what is your way to process innovation so that it can see light of the day?
It is by having the right challenges. All innovation starts with a question and it is vital to make sure that the answer to the starting question will add value to the end customer. Customer centricity is the key to innovation that will drive the company forward, rather than innovation for the sake of innovation.
Zia Askari works as the Editor for TelecomDrive.com and carries over 18 years of experience in technology writing, branding, communications and digital marketing. Over these years, Zia has worked with Cyber Media and Grey Head on the content side and RAD Data Communications, Huawei Telecommunications and Shyam Networks on the branding and marketing side.