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NetComm Wireless flags appetite for ongoing expansion in higher-end regulated broadband markets


NetComm Wireless flags appetite for ongoing expansion in higher-end regulated broadband markets

NetComm Wireless is keen to underpin its ongoing expansion drive, supported by a boost in brand awareness following its role as a key fixed wireless supplier to NBN Co, a string of high-profile international wins - and the formation of a renewed management team.

Speaking to Telecom Times on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, NetComm Wireless CTO Steve Collins said that while the Lane Cove based company launched 35 years ago, and was a well established name in the Australian fixed wireless industry, this had only recently translated internationally.

He said that outside of Australia there had been "very little recognition, until the last sort of five, six years."

"And we’ve really changed our business in that last period of time [from] what was a consumer devices company, into a product which we call infrastructure, but it’s [really] network edge products to enable a network to have a broadband connection through to the home."

Collins said going forward, the firm will center its efforts around two focus areas. " [These] are fixed wireless, which is using 4G today [along with] 4G carriers to deliver broadband service to a house; and the other part of our business is [providing] fibre-to-the-distribution-point.'"

"They’re our two strategic areas that we’re focusing all our research dollars into," continued Collins. "They do overlap somewhat in being able to deliver broadband via creative means."

Touching on the firm's performance in the home market, the NetComm Wireless CTO emphasised how key its collaboration with the company rolling out the national broadband network had been in this context.

"They’ve been our lead customer that’s really helped tailor that strategy," Collins said. "We had a customer there that was trying to do things relatively early. They came to us. We knew how to do it. We did it. That’s really in our expertise. And we suddenly realised, here’s some products that we’re world first in."

Noting the extensive number of operators globally keen to kick off similar large-scale network builds, Collins referenced the notable win - about 18 months ago - of a fixed wireless contract with AT&T. "We won that based on our technical experience and IP that we delivered," he added.

"There’s a project that they call Wireless Local Loop or there’s a thing called Connect America Fund II, [which] was money from [the] Obama days, which was to enable operators to connect rural premises to broadband where they currently have nothing," Collins explained.

"So AT&T applied for funding - got funding for that – and they built out a bunch of 4G infrastructure. And our product, which is that panel product that you see there, is what’s being sold now into AT&T, and installed in the size of homes in rural America," he said. "The more complicated the project is, the better we like it because if, for instance, you are making a smartphone there’s lots of companies that do those reference designs. These complicated projects take longer because they’re complicated, of course."

"We have a strategy where we are looking for customers that want to offer a broadband product that has like a minimum viable product, or a minimum speed," Collins said. "That’s when need a higher standard of user equipment or CPE. So, geographically, those tend to be Tier 1 operators, in markets where there is a regulator or government mandating: 'Here’s a minimum performance you must get'. So that’s where we’re operating in all the areas of our business."

In addition, Collins highlighted some key emerging tech trends that companies operating in NetComm's field of expertise would ignore at their peril. "In terms of technology trends there’s two that we’ve identified and we’re focusing on," he said. "In that fixed line fibre distribution part of our business, technology is the one that’s evolving quite quickly, and is really enabling new products. And is a way of sending signals down a copper-pair and they’ve got higher and higher frequency categories coming, which enables more speed."

Collins said these high frequencies, currently at 212 megahertz, and going to go to 424, presented unique challenges to that. "So that’s the one on that side of the business that we’re tracking, and we have research programs on top of that."

Secondly, Collins said that in terms of the much anticipated first glimpses of 5G, "3GPP talks about the use cases of enhanced mobile broadband for mission critical [connectivity], which is low latency and then machine-to-machine.'"

He said NetComm opted to focus on the enhanced mobile broadband use case, "which is bandwidth and broadband connectivity through a home. In particular, we can see challenges around getting the high frequencies to work in a way that provides a broadband service. Everyone’s very interested in claiming big speeds, and putting 5G on the box, we’re not. "

"We’re interested in providing a broadband service to customers that is reliable and can be measured using things like minimum performances all day," he said. "How do you provide a broadband offering that just works?"

"People are announcing 5G devices at MWC. They’re interesting, but in our view they’re not a reliable broadband solution," Collins said. 'They’re a hit and miss; and we’re focusing on how to make it really trustworthy and reliable to have a broadband service in the home. That’s where we’re focusing our research at the moment."

Pressed for a timeframe, Collins said: "We’re working – we have ideas already, we just haven’t announced them yet. We haven’t got a date, but I would say: Watch this space. Within the next, I would say, nine to 12 months, we’re going to be announcing a whole new range of solutions to the market."

"In 4G, you've got limited resources on your base station and if you put too many users, all consuming 20 megabytes per second, you will run out of resources, I guarantee it," said Collins.

He noted the difficulty for fixed wireless to do anything but rural deployments, where there’s a lower level of density in the houses a company might try to hook up. "If you try and put fixed wireless into a dense urban environment, unless you have lots and lots of small cells, which no-one has, you run out of resource blocks," Collins said. "I think 5G with Massive MIMO, and the ability to have more B forming, I think that’s an enabler, finally, for fixed wireless to hit the showtime of urban deployments, versus the rural that it serves at the moment."

"I think that that’s really the tipping point," said Collins who also noted the stepping down of NetComm's stalwart chief exec David Stewart last year as a pivotal moment for the Sydney company. "He was a very successful and accomplished CEO, and when he retired it was good because our CFO, who had been with the company for [about] six years, Ken Sheridan, was part of the senior leadership."

"It was really myself, Ken, and David in that leadership," said Collins. "So we had someone who was an incumbent in the business, who knew the business and could step forward."

"And David hasn’t left," he added, noting that Stewart was on the firm's Board of Directors in an advisory role. "So it’s not like the knowledge has walked out the door."

Source: Telecom Times