A quick glance at TDK Corporation's half-year results reveals the company is continuing to do well in all sectors, not least in the electronics hardware arena, where it has enjoyed considerable sales for some years.
This may come as a shock to resellers in the UK, where TDK has appeared to be something of a late starter in the PCMCIA card stakes. But unbeknown to many in the reseller channel is the equally surprising fact that TDK has been an OEM supplier of PCMCIA card technology, as well as to the PC trade generally, for several years.
Under the guidance of Joe Amodio - who cut his PCMCIA teeth on Megahertz in the early 1990s - TDK's PC card division has done extremely well. This is despite some pretty stiff competition from other Far Eastern producers, notably from the Korean end of town.
This fact was brought home to the channel in November, when Amodio announced TDK was taking over responsibility for dealer training and marketing from its distribution channel to attract corporate and retail resellers.
The move is being paralleled by a beefing up of resources in the PC card division, with expected staff increases of more than 70 per cent.
Amodio is in the process of recruiting an in-house team to support the company's dealer activities. The recruitment and training should be complete by next March, when TDK plans to dramatically flesh out its range of PCMCIA kit available to the channel to include a variety of multifunction cards that embrace ISDN, GSM data and even Flash storage technology.
For that to happen, TDK's PC card division is making some changes to the way its PCMCIA cards are shipped into the UK and sold to resellers.
The company has just teamed up with Thompson, a major print/ packaging company in East Kilbride, to allow the vendor to offer a more responsive supply of product to the channel.
According to Guy Tweedale, European marketing manager of TDK's PC card division, the East Kilbride facility is a 113,000 sq ft factory where TDK's Japan-supplied PCMCIA cards come in at one end and are married with all manner of local packaging and printed material for shipment to various European markets. 'This means we can tailor a given package much more to a specific country or, indeed, specific section of the business or retail channel,' says Tweedale.
He gives the example of where an online service or Internet service provider has a time-limited promotion aimed at one segment of the market. 'We can package those materials with our modems and other PCMCIA devices, as they come on-stream, at the East Kilbride facility. This means package runs of 10,000, or even a few thousand, can be accommodated - something that was not possible when the product was packaged in the Far East.'
He says TDK decided to go with a third-party company for its packaging arrangements in Europe - despite the fact that setting up its own operations could have been done using small change from its petty cash - because of Thompson's experience in printing and packaging. 'These guys have got paper resources you wouldn't believe.'
Tweedale says the facility is geared up to cope with every demand that TDK could possibly throw at it. 'If all of our European operations wanted a special run of a few thousand packages each and, on the same day, you could envisage that 10,000 units might need to be packaged as well. The East Kilbride facility can handle workloads like that. That shows how flexible they are.'
He also admits that printing and packaging is not within the domain of TDK's PC card divison's experience. 'The company is a PCMCIA electronics specialist, not a printer and packager. For that we need external expertise,' he says.
Tweedale is no stranger to Far Eastern working practices, having piloted Toshiba's move into PCMCIA territory in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
He then moved on to Portable Add-ons, to gain experience at the sharp end of the dealer channel, before coming to rest at TDK's PC card division.
Like Amodio, Tweedale's experience in servicing the needs of the channel shines through, even beyond the influence of his Japanese masters. For one thing, he is acutely aware of the need to react swiftly to competitor sales and marketing promotions. He is also aware of the need for effective packaging. 'The days when you could use the same packaging for the same product across the whole of Europe are gone. You need localised packaging and, in many cases, local language materials, inside the box. That is why we've set up the East Kilbride facility, to allow us that flexibility,' he says.
At this year's Comdex Fall, TDK unveiled a raft of products that will find their way on to UK dealers' shelves in the spring. Equally interesting was the company's decision to invite representatives of its mainstream reseller channel to a special briefing at the show.
This briefing drew in such comms industry veterans as Gordon Brown from Teleadapt, Nigel Parry from Portable Add-ons and John Nolan of PPCP - along with their counterparts from across Europe. It showed Amodio has moved away from the broadline distributor side of the channel in favour of specialists.
David Heppe, operations manager at the PC card group's European head office, says the staffing level increases were due to soaring sales of the firm's PCMCIA products, and not least in sales of TDK's Global Class V.34 modem. 'The demand for TDK PC card products across Europe has led to a rapid expansion in all areas of TDK's business.'
He adds that the company's international sales in Europe were a direct result of TDK's early involvement in forging the PCMCIA standard in the mid-1980s. In fact, TDK was instrumental in founding the modem technical sub-committee of the PCMCIA back in the late 1980s. According to Dataquest, TDK is the number one supplier of PCMCIA modem kit in Europe, due in no small part to its OEM operations.
It was against this backdrop that in August this year TDK became the first PCMCIA vendor to upgrade its Global Class V.34 modem to support the, then pre-ITU ratification, 33,600bps extension to the V.34 standard.
Meanwhile at Comdex, TDK took the wraps off an enhanced range of PCMCIA comms cards. Heppe says the company is looking to double its revenues on the back of the new products. TDK also became the first vendor at Comdex to offer an upgraded 33,600bps PCMCIA modem for the Apple Mac Powerbook series.
Since its launch, the Datavoice 3400 APB has become something of a best seller in Mac Powerbook circles, even allowing Mac portable users to route their modem calls across analogue cellphones. According to John Huggins, TDK general manager, the move to 33,600bps on the company's PC and Apple Mac PCMCIA modems signifies TDK's commitment to producing state-of-the-art technology.
'With the increasing popularity of the Internet and Intranet application environments, PCMCIA cards with faster modem throughput are now a necessity for the business traveller,' he says.
The most interesting aspect of TDK's updated range of modems is the company's commitment to the ITU-TSS V.34 specification on its PCMCIA models. By supporting the enhanced specification, the company claims its modems can support data transmissions as high as 250,000bps using data compression.
To support these speeds, the company is using a system known as Ultraport that allows high-speed data transfers between the memory of the PC and the modem using direct memory access technology. The technology bypasses the traditional Com port problems that slow down many modems when attempting to operate at these speeds.
Tweedale says it is leading-edge technologies such as Ultraport that will keep the company ahead of the rest of the PCMCIA pack in the coming months, allowing the firm to release some of the industry's first ISDN PCMCIA cards, as well as step in to the world of GSM data cards.
Also at Comdex, TDK took the wraps off an enhanced version of its Web site - TDK Online. TDK Online is located at http://www.tdkonline.com and, according to TDK officials at Comdex, aims to fill visitors in on what the Japanese company has in the way of multimedia technology, including CD-R systems. What's interesting is that TDK appears to be making the leap from being a hardware supplier into an industry company that has been around the block a few times, and is happy to stick its corporate neck out with the Web site.
The site is billed as having music reviews, CD release schedules and even music from new bands online. TDK Online also includes a regular 'buzz news' area. On top of that, the site includes an 'airplay' showcase of music from new musicians who have not signed a recording contract. While some might say downloading audio clips across the Internet is not their bag, it's actually good fun to browse the site and download audio clips from what look to be a bunch of talented, but previously unrecorded, musicians.
According to Tim Sullivan, TDK vice president of marketing in the US, the Internet site is designed to break the mould of company sponsored sites. 'Because our recording media products are used in so many applications, from music to video to computer storage, we wanted our site to showcase the fun and creativity that recording offers,' he says.
While the Web site is not directly related to TDK's PC card division activities in the UK and Europe, it certainly adds to the profile the company has been carving out for itself in the channel over the past six months or so.
Tweedale is keen to keep this momentum going while the company boosts its staffing resources. By spring, the company intends to be in a position to launch an array of new PCMCIA products into the reseller channel, including the world's first PCMCIA ISDN modem.
Although neither Tweedale, nor, for that matter, TDK itself, is revealing any further details about the PCMCIA ISDN card, sources suggest that the device will be multifunction, including options such as analogue fax/modem facilities, as well as GSM data.
The inclusion of the latter is not as strange as it might seem, as several GSM networks in Europe are beta testing features on their networks which allow up to eight 9,600bps data channels to be aggregated together, to give a 64,000bps data channel - the same per-channel data speed as achieved on ISDN.
Cellnet and Vodafone have yet to confirm that they will be offering a data channel aggregation facility, but Orange is already testing the technology.
At the TMA Show in Brighton in early December, the cellular phone network announced that its GSM data facility already has the ability to 'outdial' to an ISDN service, albeit at 9,600bps - the current maximum available on all four of the UK's GSM/digital cellular services.
It can only be a matter of time before wireless ISDN facilities - pumping data at speeds of 64,000bps before data compression facilities are applied - are available on a widespread scale. And TDK is clearly aiming to be the first out of the gate with both PCMCIA wireless and wireless ISDN hardware.
But for the time being, resellers are busy selling the company's existing range of PCMCIA modems, and fledgeling crop of multifunction PCMCIA cards.
As Amodio said in the run-up to the Networks 96 show last summer: 'watch this space'.
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