Jake Dodson, Riedel talks acquisitions and synchronised IP
Following Riedel’s recent acquisitions in the intercom sector, Charlotte Ashley caught up with the company’s director of product management, Jake Dodson, to find out more about the manufacturer’s plans for the future.
A one-time Silicon Valley telecom expert, technology consultant, and rival to Thomas Riedel as vice president of product management at Clear-Com Communications, Jake Dodson has dedicated the last ten years to working in real-time networking in broadcast and live performance. His two-year tenure as head of the product management team at Riedel Communications – working on everything from product roadmap to strategy – has been anything but quiet.
“[The Delec acquisition] allowed us to bring Dante products into the portfolio.”
“Riedel is a 29-year-old company, but it’s as close to a start-up as you’ll ever get for a company of this size,” says Dodson. The manufacturer recently attracted attention by unveiling the acquisitions of two intercom companies in one day. “It wasn’t our intention to acquire both in the same year,” qualifies Dodson. Both ASL and Delec featured on the company’s wish list of potential acquisitions, and ideal circumstances meant both (Delec as an asset deal) joined Riedel in September. “Five or six years we were asking ourselves, ‘what is the future of partyline?’ We figured analogue will be displaced by digital, but what we’ve come to realise over the years it that the analogue market is still very much alive because it’s a much lower cost of entry and there’s a lot of small operations that need that,” says Dodson on the move for ASL. He adds that the company’s research into the digital marketplace further convinced them to make an offer. Delec was a more strategic move, given Salzbrenner Stagetec media group’s financial situation, Riedel seized the opportunity to acquire the intercom and communications technology and team of engineers it had long-admired. “Of course this has also allowed us to bring Dante products into the portfolio,” says Dodson.
Dodson notes that the company’s other recent investments – including an engineering space at its headquarters in Wuppertal, Germany and an R&D development site dedicated to FPGA (high core competency) development – signify a strategic shift in focus onto the management side of product development within the company. “We’re working on things on the FPGA side so cores can be applied to many different products in the future, so we can start to leverage technology blocks.”
When it comes to the development of new offerings, Dodson takes a holistic approach. “For me, product management is like the hub at the centre of a wheel. The spokes feeding into the innovation can be customer feedback (where they have a specific problem we need to solve), brainstorming sessions with our engineers, and sometimes taking a broader view. I feel that if you can step out of your own industry and look at how others do things, you can often come up with ideas.” He adds: “Rather than just focusing on the here and now you’ve got to think about what’s the problem going to evolve to in three years time and how we can work around that.”
With this future outlook in mind, Riedel is putting a lot of effort into Layer 3 IP (using IP to send information between larger networks via routers). “There’s a lot of noise in the industry about IP, but the area we’re really into now is synchronised IP. This involves very low latency IP networks that are fully synchronised to achieve high quality audio or video with the ability to synchronise multiple stream types together.” Among the company’s recent launches is an AES67 card for its Artist series to provide synchronised IP directly onto the digital backbone of the intercom system. “We’re very interested in technologies around device discovery and registration so NMOS is very interesting to us, as well as AES67, Dante, and precision timing protocols (PTP) and looking at how timing across the network impacts multiple devices.”
Dodson says it’s the company’s mission to make things as simple as possible for integrators in navigating IP-based networks. “I think there is a new paradigm emerging. The amount of IP in the network is increasing, and that means integrators that weren’t used to dealing with IP, or not yet at this level, are now having to build those competencies.” He continues: “Although we try to eliminate as much complexity as we can, it’s a challenge because it’s a whole different set of technologies. You have a networking layer that you don’t necessarily own, whereas in a classic intercom or video distribution architecture you own the transport and you own the interconnection nodes. In an IP domain who is actually responsible for the IP network when it runs into problems?”
Amid all the excitement surrounding IP convergence, Dodson stresses the importance of realistic expectations when it comes to getting there. “You can’t just flip the industry in one investment cycle and replace everything. The typical depreciation cycle in our industry is somewhere between seven to eight years.” He states that companies should look to gradually layer in more IP content as their budget allows, and that Riedel is focusing on hybrid products to ease this transition. “It’s not just about technology; it’s an economic issue too. Funding the investment in IP technology is often forgotten about because people say, ‘fantastic, it’s going to reduce my costs because everything’s going to be done on standard switches,’ but actually the reality is that all of the switching that’s going into this architecture of a highly synchronised deterministic IP network is high-end gear. It’s therefore essential to build competency.”