Keysight: The New Kid’s Got Some Living Up to Do


Reflections on the Naming of Agilent's "Keysight" spinoff, and the history of HP

Keysight?  Oh my! That’s the new name for the electronic measurement company that was part of Agilent, which was the name of what was left of Hewlett-Packard after HP became a maker of printers, calculators, watches, and personal computers. I have a feeling that a lot of us, who more or less grew up with Hewlett-Packard, are going to have a hard time taking it seriously. Maybe that would be a mistake.

Older readers will recall that HP was once along with Tektronix, a dominant player in oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers, and all sorts of bleeding edge test equipment. I remember, circa 1972, when the antenna company I worked for bought HP’s first Network Analyzer – a full-size 19-inch rack device that essentially put an end to measuring insertion loss and gain by swapping passive attenuators in and out of the line, or measuring VSWR with a directional coupler.  Once it was calibrated, it automatically measured scattering parameters directly, and then plotted VSWR etc. versus frequency to unheard-of precision on a CRT.  For I/O, it even used a trackball and an on-screen menu. (When I finally was introduced to a mouse, I thought it was a trivial idea – just a trackball turned upside down.

That pre-eminence lasted a long time. Through my years at Tektronix, HP was always the brand to beat.

Then, HP went down the personal computer path, and in 1999, the parent spun off Agilent as the high-end T&M company and pursued its own course as the maker of often pretty good Windows machines, darned good servers, and a host of peripherals.

Despite the separation, the “Agilent” brand remained a respected source for innovation in test-and measurement until last September 19, when it was thrown into a kind of limbo, at least in terms of name. 

At the time, an Agilent press release said, it would, “ . . .separate into two publicly traded companies: one in life sciences, diagnostics and applied markets that will retain the Agilent name, and the other that will be comprised of Agilent's current portfolio of electronic measurement (EM) products.” The separation was to occur, “through a tax-free pro rata spinoff of the EM company to Agilent shareholders.

At that time, the name of the new company was “to be announced.”

Yesterday, January 7, the new name was unveiled: Keysight. A backgrounder said, “The name Keysight is derived from two English words: key, meaning indispensable or essential, a means of access; and insight, meaning the power of seeing, having vision and perception. The name connotes seeing what others cannot, having the critical or key insight to understand and unlock the changing technology landscape.”  Well, I have a funny name myself; I’m not going to rag them on it.

More to the point, they’re keeping the T&M part of Agilent intact, which is a good thing.  Keysight has 9,500 employees worldwide. When the dust clears on its fiscal 2013 sales, it’s expected that it will have produced nearly $3 billion in revenue. It an acknowledged leader in T&M for the communications (wireless data), aerospace and defense, and industrial, computers and semiconductor market segments. That’s a lot of our fellow engineers and the workers who support them, and a good piece of a lot of significant markets. That’s something for a new kid with a funny name to grow on.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on Jan 8, 2014

And after all this time I thought the concept of mouse balls came first, since I only started seeing track balls on cellphones just some few years back.

Keysight ain't so bad for me, though I'm interested in knowing what funny term Don cooked up. Hahaha...

on Jan 13, 2014

"The name connotes seeing what others cannot" To many of us who remember when HP made test equipment, we would simply call that trippin'. Agilent is now Trippin'!

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Don Tuite

Don Tuite covers Analog and Power issues for Electronic Design’s magazine and website. He has a BSEE and an M.S in Technical Communication, and has worked for companies in aerospace,...
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