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After spin-off, Keysight strikes out on its own

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After spin-off, Keysight strikes out on its own
Keysight's banner adorned the NYSE building when it began trading independently (Photo: Ben Hider/NYSE)

Keysight Technologies is the newest name and iteration of a testing company that traces its roots back through life sciences company Agilent Technologies to Hewlett-Packard, dating back 75 years. Now,  after being separated from parent company Agilent last month, the company  has taken the form of a standalone test and measurement company.

Mark Wallace, Keysight Technologies VP and GM of Americas field operations
Mark Wallace, Keysight Technologies VP and GM of Americas field operations

The Keysight spin-off was one of the largest to shape the test and measurement industry this year, as technological steps forward, as well as increasing numbers of wirelessly connected devices that require testing, drive the industry. Among other notable company changes this year:  JDSU announced a split in its business, to be completed next year; while Anite sold its small travel-focused segment to become a pure-play test and measurement company.

Mark Wallace, VP and GM of Keysight’s field operations in the Americas, said he sees several trends driving both the overall electronic test market and Keysight’s approach. Central to both, he said, are software and services.

Wallace has been with the company since joining HP in 1985, rising through the ranks from a field engineer to field operations VP for the Americas in 2011. He said that while Keysight has always been a major player in the test market, being part of a larger company with other investment and focus interests has meant that the test company’s priorities were not always the top priority for the larger organization. Now, he said, Keysight will be in charge of its own reinvestment strategy and direction.

“The reinvestment has been there, but I think … when you’re part of a large, multifaceted business, and you have important problems your customers are trying to solve, sometimes that doesn’t surface as the top priority for the company,” Wallace said. “But now it always will.”

Hardware plays an important role in distributing Keysight’s software, Wallace added, and its software is the primary driver of flexibility and capabilities across multiple pieces of equipment. While Keysight plans to continue its high-performance instrumentation approach for benchtop equipment, he said, it also has been adding to its modular portfolio – such as recent introductions of a single-slot PXI card vector network analyzer and PXI-form signal analyzers with expanded capabilities – and runs its software across both, as well as portable testing products such as its FieldFox line.

On its website, Keysight describes itself as “unique in providing a portfolio of test solutions that spans benchtop and modular hardware and compatible software,” spanning benchtop-only, modular-only or a hybrid of the two.

“We say we’re a hardware company, but the evidence would support otherwise,” Wallace said. “We’re a very large and successful software business, and we’re going to continue to focus on that.”

In particular, he said, the increasing pressure to reduce the cost of testing is going to drive the push toward more and more software emphasis. The industry, “is transitioning from the mindset and culture of a hardware-centric ‘box’ business, an instrument business, to one of more solutions. And the solutions are going to be more and more enabled through software, with measurement science and (intellectual property) delivered through our services.”

In terms of services, Wallace noted that Keysight was successful at winning a recent major contract for both testing equipment and services. The $25 million, five-year contract with an unspecified major aerospace and defense firm is evidence of Keysight’s ability to provide services around test, not just equipment, the company said at the time.

Wallace said that Keysight’s services business “is a big part of our business emphasis.”

Customers, he added, “are looking for solutions more so than products.” Differentiation at the product level is important, he added, but services are also a source of differentiation.

So is flexibility, which has been a focus for Keysight. In addition to offering benchtop, modular and hybrid solutions, the company also has made recent moves to increase the flexibility of its equipment by offering customers the chance to expand the frequency range of existing X-series signal analyzers, which is typically not an option after the initial purchase of the equipment.

Overall, Wallace said, the trend of increasing use of mobile data is driving the need for network equipment and devices to handle ever greater, faster data traffic. That “insatiable demand to get everything we need, no matter where we are” is the key focus for industry vendors, he said, and therefore a particular focus for Keysight as well. Mobile data demands are driving the engineering and testing from early signal simulation modeling tools to design verification and manufacturing testing, shaping battery and power management approaches, antenna design and other features which all require testing.

In looking ahead to how future technologies will shape the ecosystem, Keysight has also put substantial focus on positioning itself as a leader in 5G collaboration, with particular focus on China and Asia Pacific in recent months. The company announced earlier this year that it is working jointly with China Mobile’s research arm on 5G exploration, as well as co-hosting an early event on 5G and millimeter wave technologies in South Korea in October. There was news this week that it is sponsoring 5G work at New York University’s NYU Wireless research center as well.

Wallace said that the company does not have significant plans for changing its workforce, either in terms of trimming or hiring. Keysight has had a relatively small but steady list of job openings since its separation. Keysight is headquartered in Santa Rosa, Calif., and has about 9,500 employees in 30 countries. Looking at the numbers, the company was one of the largest public test companies by revenue when it was part of Agilent, and the spin-off puts it in the place of being one of the largest pure-play test companies. 

“Unlike a lot of other companies that may be starting up or spinning off, we are going to do so from the front,” Wallace said. “We are the leader in the industry, we are focused on this transition, and we’re going to lead from the front.”