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Korea's Willtech sets sight on world measurement market

Posted: 14 Nov 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:test and measurement? telecommunication? test equipment? cdma? test equipment?

Chang: Measurement business has to do with creating 'something' out of 'nothing'.
It is said that one can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar. This is aptly applicable to Boo-Kwan Chang, founder and president of Willtech Corp., a South Korean company that made it big in the test and measurement industry.

Having dreamt about founding a technology development company since college days, Chang joined Samsung Electronics after graduation with plans to work for only a period of seven years. He knew that if he wanted to build his own company someday, he needed ample experience in technology development and management. He worked to develop a system software for analog cellular basestation at Samsung Electronic's mobile communication system development division. At that time, the telecommunication market focused on the wired system, having few people using mobile phones. "While working for Samsung, I could get the first-hand experience of the development process of Korea's mobile communication industry."

"By the time the first commercialization of CDMA system was done at Samsung, I quit the company and went through the business item selection for a while. Afterwards I decided to start my own business in a rarely-trodden field," he said.

Gold rush now

Test and measurement, though not very conspicuous, is an indispensable infrastructure industry. Chang compares the measurement business to "blue-jean one". Just as blue-jean vendors earned more money than miners did during the Gold rush in the United States, companies like Qualcomm and Agilent earned more money than local CDMA mobile handset and system manufactures did. "Test and measurement system is a must to determine the performance of mobile handsets. As soon as CDMA started in Korea, companies flocked to buy foreign measuring equipment as costly as $120,000."

Even then, there were local measurement equipment manufacturers including LG Innotek and HungChang. But as their focus was on general purpose products such as power amplifiers and repeaters rather than value-added ones, it was hard for them to penetrate the world market with globally renowned brands.

Having acquired the knowhow in basestation and communication field during his stay at Samsung, he decided that the government-supported CDMA was where the business potential was the greatest. He focused on the specialized high value-added measurement equipment business and approached customers offering both high quality and affordable price.

Putting all together

Starting off with only six employees in 1996, Willtech has grown tremendously and now has about 500 employees, including its foreign affiliates. The company's vision is "to give the best opportunities for its employees and at the same time establish Willtech as one of the top companies."

Starting with wireless measurement equipment, Willtech began introducing engineering tool measurement products that are appropriate to Korea's network environment in the local CDMA market where Agilent was almost a lone player. "When we introduced our first product to SK Telecom, they seemed to find it unbelievable. Later, SK Telecom suggested co-development partnership with us, and we started the two-year project to localize CDMA test equipment."

With advanced technology guaranteed, the measurement business could grow into global brand. Even though it is not easy to overcome the economy of scale giant companies such as Agilent, sure-fire technology makes it possible to make inroads into global market with heightened brand recognition. A test and measurement engineer is also in a position to experience the leading-edge technology quicker than anybody else, said Chang. "As the test and measurement equipment are required to develop new technology, their development is prerequisite to product commercialization, requiring accumulation of an advanced level of technology. Once entered into the market, you also get the advantage of ensured continuation of the market, as engineers tend to use the familiar products."

Survival strategy

"It is test and measurement industry that has led local venture businesses," said Chang. For example, Mirae Corp., a manufacturer of engineering tool measurement equipment for semiconductor production, is referred to as one of the Korea's first generation venture companies, and Medison, a test and measurement company for medical equipment, has led Korea's second generation of venture companies.

Regrettably, both are in bad management condition. The same is true for LG Innotek and HungChang. The reason is that their target is focused only on the Korean market. With their narrow market base, local test and measurement companies have no other way but to pursue the global market in order to survive.

"The first time I knocked at the world market door with our 'Made in Korea' products, nobody believed in us. So we adopted a strategy that could differentiate us from giant companies in the field. It is hard for big companies like Agilent and Tektronix to provide customer-specific services to a large number of customers, albeit at low cost. We needed a strategy for product differentiation that is low-priced and suitable for specific customers. After six months to one year of service, we were getting good feedback from our customers."

Finally, Willtech got orders worth $5.4 million from Sprint, a CDMA service provider in the United States, for CDMA 2000 1x related field engineering test equipment. It shows that Willtech's customer-oriented marketing strategy started to pay off in the global market.

Willtech is also aspiring to become a multinational company covering such countries as the United States, Germany, Britain, China, Japan, and France, stepping on the business through its global network and product diversification strategy. "You can say the measurement business has to do with creating 'something' out of 'nothing'. Thus, it is advantageous to the countries which have advanced basic technology and military industry tradition founded on the strong academic and theoretical background. But Korea is strong in its quick adaptability to new technology and circumstances. If we could get the basic technology we lack and combine it with our strong application technology, the synergy effect would be great in the global market. The reason we acquired the wireless test and measurement business division of Germany's Acerna with its 80-year tradition is in that context."

To position Willtech within the top five telecommunication companies among specializing in measurement by 2005 is Chang's immediate goal. "Then, the next stage will be to expand our business to medical test and measurement field--a high value-added bio measurement market."

Wish list

Chang stressed that local measurement industry needs more interest from government and related industry. "Many smart students in, say, United States, want to work at measurement equipment companies. The situation is different in Korea. They are interested mainly in mobile handsets and systems, somewhat neglecting measurement equipment sector, which is one of the prime infrastructure industries. More investment in this area is called for as the development of high quality products requires the growth of measurement industry."

He also emphasized the necessity of continued development and investment in basic technology. "Ultimately, such investment is the local companies' lot. But being small and medium, local test and measurement companies cannot afford to make major investment in technology development, putting the companies behind competition. The way to cut this vicious loop is to increase the investment in nurturing human resources for basic technology, thus, paving the way for a technologically advanced country."

- Lee Ju-Yeun

Electronic Engineering Times - Asia

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