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ABE ELETTRONICA RIDES THE DIGITAL BROADCASTING REVOLUTION
Research and development are the two priorities which have always accompanied the development of the Italian group Abe Elettronica, specialist in the production of telecommunications equipment. The company has been operating since 1979, and in thirty years has installed over 12,000 TV transmitters, 6,000 microwave links and more than 2,000 MPEG encoders around the world. “The leap forward,” recalls the president and founder Roberto Valentin, “took place in 2000, when we began to encourage research into digital transmission technology. From that time we have invested altogether at least 10 million Euros.” An enormous sum for a group that in 2002 grossed 3 million and closed 2008 with earnings of around 7 million, 6 million of which were directly attributable to Abe, and around 1 million to their subsidiary Af Meccanica, which makes precision solutions for telecommunications. In 2007 their respective values were 4 million and 700 thousand euro.
Mr. President, was it hard to achieve growth in such a “difficult” year for the global economy as 2008? And have the new orders come more from the Italian market or from the international one?
Italy is a mature market, even if it’s evolving, whereas the rest of the world will have increasing need for technologies to facilitate digital network distribution. This is why our export quota is so high: in 2008, 89% of our sales came from outside the domestic market. Recently we have been doing very well in the African continent, but the main markets are still Europe, some Asian counties where we have been present for some time, and the area of the CIS nations (Russia, the Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics). The exchange factor, however, has put us at a disadvantage throughout the American continent, in favour of competitors from the United States.
What are the commercial strategies that you have developed over the years to safeguard the main end markets?
About ten agents, in different locations around the world, answer directly to our Italian headquarters, whose sales department is made up of just three people. The agents are based in our strategic markets (France, the United Kingdom and Russia in Europe, Nigeria and South Africa in Africa, and then Australia, the USA-–Miami, Costa Rica and Argentina), from where they obviously also follow the neighbouring countries. They are, indeed, true “business partners”, with whom we have created a solid relationship over the years. The agents take care of both sales and also technical assistance, thanks to teams of dedicated technicians directly dependent on them, who offer installation, after sales and ordinary maintenance services.
Who guarantees that these specialised personnel receive sufficient training?
Before anyone can work on an Abe device, they must first have spent an extensive period, between six and twelve months, working in our Centre in Caravaggio (Bergamo). This programme has been followed by technicians from Russia, Indonesia and Brazil, just to name three of our important markets.
Is a small group such as Abe Elettronica, with a turnover of less than 10 million, capable of meeting a global demand that is constantly growing?
Yes, certainly. One of our strengths is our excellent productive flexibility. Production of hardware is mainly outsourced, entrusted to qualified subcontractors, who are mostly Italian. Obviously, final testing and approval of the devices is done within our company. We have a mature quality system: we have had ISO 9011 certification for more than ten years. At the same time, Abe Elettronica does all the research and development work in-house, to which we allocate around 15-20% of our annual income.
Which markets offer the best growth prospects in a world that, at various rates, is moving towards total conversion to digital transmission?
Even if analogical transmitters are still being sold in some African countries, digital is certainly the future. The quotas from the analogue market are residual; in Europe it has almost disappeared and only survives in “dual cast” devices, which can transmit a signal with both technologies.
In Europe, then, there are few opportunities in the digital technologies sector?
I wouldn’t say so. Italy, in this sense, is an exception, because it has a very high number of decoders installed. But in the rest of the continent there is still a lot of room for growth. This can be seen in the large number of European countries where we sell our solutions. And I can say that the prospects for the future are extremely positive throughout the world. Terrestrial digital broadcasting technology has so many advantages.
What solutions do you offer to the new standard service?
Transmitters, microwave links, MPEG encoders, and satellite uplinks for transmission from Earth to satellite. Thanks to a co-branding agreement with Alcatel, we have recently developed a series of transmitters for mobile TV on cell phones (Dvb-H technology). Specifically, we have become the providers for Alcatel’s Dth 9600 line.
Is what you offer standardised or do you also make customised products?
We don’t offer ultra-customised solutions. The market acknowledges our other strengths, such as our capacity to offer technology at more competitive prices than our competitors. Another significant aspect is our wide experience, which allows us to develop products in advance of demand consolidation. An example that demonstrates our ability to anticipate the market is our launching of production of MPEG encoders around the year 2000. Today, less than ten years later, all the encoders for the transmission of digital television are MPEG.