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Polyphaser looks to market in China

by Linda Hiller, Staff Writer

PolyPhaser Corp., the Minden-based lightning protection developing and manufacturing company, is reaching for the sky these days – the China sky.

“The market for cellular phones is just opening up over there and the potentials are endless,” said company general manager Ed Vees, who returned from his third Minden-China trip this year. “It’s now a global market and we’re leading the charge into China. We call it the China Initiative.”

PolyPhaser is owned by the Smith Group and employs 157 people in its 53,000 square foot facility off Airport Road. With annual sales of $25 million and growing – one quarter of that in international sales to more than 75 countries – the company is hoping to catch the wireless communication comet tail as it zooms toward Europe, South America and China.

Five years ago, there were no cellular phones in China, population 1.2 billion. Today, there are 43 million cell phones with at least a fivefold increase projected for the next 10 years, Vees said.

But what has this to do with PolyPhaser Corp.?

“We specialize in lightning protection devices to protect radio frequency technology,” said Zach Spencer, multimedia specialist. “We offer our customers the assurance that their system won’t go down with a lightning strike.”

“People hate it when their cell phones don’t work,” said Jim Heitsch, vice president of sales and marketing who has been to China for PolyPhaser on more than one occasion.

PolyPhaser’s patented lightning protection and grounding solution “widget” is installed in the base stations of tall radio antennae towers for customers including Ericcson, Motorola, AT&T, Qualcomm, Nortel and others.

n Garage invention. The surge/lightning protection idea came to company founder Roger Block – a ham radio operator in Florida at the time – when a lightning strike shut him down. After that, he decided to find a way to prevent further system failures due to lightning strikes, and in his garage in 1984, he developed the device that PolyPhaser now sells (with modifications).

With the modernization of China in the last five years, telecommunication has become more and more important to its citizens, and in major cities like Beijing or Shanghai, laying ground lines for wire telephones may be too expensive and cumbersome compared to establishing wireless communication through cellular phones, Vees said.

To enter the China market, PolyPhaser representatives have traveled to the Asian country and met with government and business officials there. As guests, the Minden men have both marveled at the beauty of the country and stumbled over some of its customs.

“Much of the time, we are just inside buildings doing business,” Vees said. “The first two times we went this year, it was smoggy, hot and humid, but this last trip was perfect. It was so clear flying into Beijing – we flew right over the Great Wall and the mountains – it was beautiful.”

n Tremendous hospitality. Heitsch said the etiquette of being an honored guest at a formal meal presented by their Chinese hosts presented some challenges.

“If you’re the honored guest, you sit in the best spot, facing the door and you also taste everything first,” he said.

“They do have tremendous hospitality there,” Vees said.

Both men said the Chinese food they ate in China was the best they’d ever had.

Because English is becoming the universal corporate technical language, and since it is now taught in Chinese schools, young people in China often speak English, in contrast to older residents who don’t. That is just one of the changes Vees has seen since he first went to China three years ago.

“Three years ago, when we got off the plane, there were armed guards, and when you went on the streets, there were bicycles everywhere,” he said. “Most people didn’t drive cars then, and you had to just close your eyes and not watch because it was so crowded you knew they were going to crash. Since then, the infrastructure they have put in is just phenomenal. There are lots of new jobs and you can see the standard of living going up, with more and more people using cell phones, laptops and there are lots of new highways.”

PolyPhaser already has two Chinese sales engineer employees in Shanghai, Vees said, and recently signed an exclusive distribution deal with Beijing Diverse Telecom for future sales. In time, he said they will likely have to establish a manufacturing facility in China to avoid import duties, and also because the Chinese will want to shop locally.

“We’re in a very fast growing market place and we have to act fast,” Spencer said.

n About PolyPhaser. PolyPhaser offers tours of their Minden plant for students and other interested groups. For nformation, call Karen Rader, 782-2511, and for general information on PolyPhaser Corp., visit the Web site at http://www.polyphaser.com.