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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Why I can't compete with China

20 February 2020

The other day I made a video that has created a bit of a stir.

This video was demonstrating a simple solution to a complex problem -- and that's the sort of thing I really enjoy. Thinking outside the box and coming up with solutions to such problems is a challenge that has excellent rewards.

Let's talk about the problem...

A company has released a new style of radio control transmitter that operates on the 900MHz ISM band. Not only is this transmitter styled somewhat differently to the traditional "box" but the 900MHz spectrum also offers potential benefits in terms of penetration through obstructions (such as trees, buildings, etc) and that's highly desirable for some types of "proximity" drone flying.

The company sent me a unit to review but I found that I didn't have a drone set up to use this 900MHz system -- all mine are on the more popular but comparatively range-limited 2.4GHz ISM band.

Also waiting in the review queue was a tiny (and I'm talking *very* tiny) drone that weighs just 28g, yet has a live video (FPV) camera and full aerobatic capabilities. This drone was also on 2.4GHz however.

See the problem?

Yes, I had a small 2.4GHz drone and a 900MHz radio control transmitter. Obviously this was not going to work.

Now I'm not alone in facing such problems. All over the world, people have found that these micro-quads are brilliant for indoor flying in winter. It takes just a few seconds to set up a race-course inside your house and this means that no matter how bad the weather outside, you can fly your heart out in the living-room, down the hall to the bedroom and back via the kitchen.

However, a growing number of people are switching from 2.4GHz RC systems to 900MHz ones, for the reasons mentioned earlier. How can *they* also use those new transmitters with these tiny drones that are not on the same frequency and don't use the same protocols?

Well in the video I posted, I delivered a super-simple solution to the problem:

As you'll see from the comments, people have been very impressed by this piece of lateral thinking and many are saying that they'd actually pay to buy one of these repeater/relay systems.

Therein lies the problem...

I do not have the time nor the capital to manufacture these things... even on a small scale.

That's kind of a shame really, because such niche products are where small enterprises can generate a small but healthy living for those who are fleet of foot and innovative.

This is far from the first time that I've come up with an idea or demonstrated a concept that could be commercialised on a small but worthwhile scale. Last time I almost went ahead and made a small production run -- except that the local council (the South Waikato District Council) told me that I was not allowed to employ people, even in a part-time capacity, at my workshop.

I did have plans to get a handful of people (most likely women and probably solo mums -- because they're usually more competent at such things and they're a group that could do with the hand-up) to make small runs of the product concerned. This would have brought much needed employment to the town and also serviced a gap in the market.

Hey-ho... the "because it's you" hurdle struck again :-(

However, the other real hassle with exporting relatively inexpensive tech from NZ would now also be a factor that might make such a venture an exercise in futility these days.

I'm talking about the ludicrous cost of shipping *from* New Zealand to almost anywhere else on the planet.

How on earth can anyone expect to export a locally made product when the cost of shipping exceeds the value of the product itself?

China has long understood the value of keeping shipping low and look what it's done for its direct-exporter economy over recent years.

Here in NZ, I can find no way to export even a small product for less than $40 or more, if you want any form of tracking to give to the customer.

Sino e-tailers can ship packages to me via registered mail for just a a dollar or so... but NZ Post no longer offers "registered mail" as an option for anything other than documents (letters). The days when you could send a package by airmail and pay an extra $5 or so to have it "registered delivery" are long gone. Now, anything for which you want a tracking number, must be "couriered" at an insane cost, even if you don't necessarily want urgent delivery.

This is why, if I did decide to manufacture something, I wouldn't be able to employ hard working Kiwis to make it. I'd have no option but to get it made in China solely because the cost of shipping it to customers (direct from China) would be a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost of doing the same from New Zealand.

Is it time for our government to look at ways to make NZ direct-exporting retailers more competitive with China by allowing us to compete against the "free shipping" offers that make those Sino-offers so attractive?

Surely we can do what China does... can't we?

How many more jobs and how much increased export earnings would be create if we adopted strategies that made it economically viable to direct-retail products that were made here in NZ and shipped from NZ to the rest of the world at affordable prices?

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