CBNL will continue to heavily invest in R&D to introduce more technically advanced product variants
By: Malik Shahzaib
Malik Shahzaib, Editor of Expert Technology Review (ETR), recently had a chance to chat with Lionel Chmilewsky, CEO of Cambridge Broadband Networks (CBNL) at the side lines of CommunicAsia2014.
Mr Chmilewsky has more than 25 years of experience in the technology field and has been part of the wireless industry since the early 90s. Prior to joining CBNL in 2012, Lionel was CEO of Comverse IP Communications and Senior Vice President of Comverse Group. His background also includes General Management and Senior Sales roles for Alcatel, Proxim Wireless, JDS Uniphase and EXFO.
Shahzaib. Please introduce us to CBNL?
CBNL are the leaders in point-to-multipoint (PMP) microwave technology, providing operators with mobile backhaul and enterprise access solutions. We have approximately 50% share of the PMP market and serve both mobile operators and fixed service providers. Our customer base includes over 70 service providers across more than 40 countries, including seven of the world’s largest top ten Global Operators.
In terms of products, the CBNL portfolio is centered on two main platforms – VectaStar Gigabit (designed for macro/wide area networks) and VectaStar Metro (designed for small cell backhaul). We also provide turnkey solutions covering network design, deployment, installation and commissioning, maintenance and managed services.
Let me explain the product very quickly. VectaStar’s PMP architecture uses area-licensed spectrum to create a sector of backhaul coverage from a single hub site. This delivers throughput of up to 600Mbps per sector or up to 4.8Gbps per Hub site. Multiple cell sites can be backhauled within this sector which creates total cost of ownership (TCO) savings of up to 50% compared to alternative fibre or point-to-point (PTP) wireless technology.
If you think of PTP technology – you need a radio at each end of the link. We backhaul multiple links to a central hub, saving huge amounts of equipment, time and cost, whilst delivering the capacity for the most demanding LTE networks. Delivering such strong price and performance benefits is one of the key reasons we have seen strong adoption of our technology.
Our networks have been deployed to backhaul 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE mobile traffic, along with providing high speed connectivity to enterprises through the operator’s business division.
All our product design, including the ASIC, is developed by our in house R&D team. We are continuing to invest heavily in R&D to support our customers’ requirements and have just launched our fifth generation of products which I’ll expand upon in a minute.
Shahzaib. What are CBNL’s key areas of operation, are you focusing specifically in Asia or all over the world?
CBNL is very much an international company. Africa and the Middle East are very strong markets and we serve all major operators in those regions. We are also expanding in new geographical areas, including Latin America, Europe, Asia Pacific and more recently North America.
We are already serving customers across six countries in Latin America, including Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, Venezuela, Argentina and Peru. This has added a really strong balance to our trade and laid the foundations for future growth in the region.
In terms of Asia Pacific – we are very excited by the market potential. We believe we have a truly innovative solution to provide operators with capacity, speed to market and cost savings required for next generation 3G, 4G/LTE and small cell networks. We’ve seen strong traction for our solutions this week at CommunicAsia and are already rolling out a major network across Indonesia.
Shahzaib. When was CBNL launched?
CBNL was established in 2000. The company was founded by ten engineers from Cambridge University, UK, who secured private equity funding to develop an innovative solution to the increased demand for mobile communications. CBNL is one of many wireless technology companies in the Cambridge Tech Hub. Some of the technology coming out of Cambridge is leading the world in innovation and the area has proved to be an ideal location to base CBNL’s headquarters and R&D facilities.
Shahzaib. What key trends are making an impact on the modern backhaul network?
There are two main global trends we are seeing. From a consumer perspective, there is increased data demand from smartphones, tablets and a range of connected devices. It’s key that modern backhaul solutions provide the capacity and quality of service to handle this. Our latest VectaStar products have been designed with this in mind, providing up to 600Mbps per sector which can increase to 4.8Gbps for a four sector hub site.
The remaining trends focus on operator’s requirements. Firstly, time to market. It’s a very competitive environment and operators need to deploy networks quickly to get ahead of the competition. We’ve seen this trend play out across global markets and CBNL’s solutions are designed to support operators in rapid network deployment. VectaStar allows links to be deployed in under half a day, or less. This is vastly quicker than fibre or PTP and can offer operators a real competitive advantage.
Secondly, there is cost. This is a real concern for operators as the demand for data is creating flat or even reducing revenues. This is in addition to many markets, including Asia, typically having a low average revenue per user. Therefore, backhaul solutions must deliver every bit of data in the most cost effect way and create an attractive business case for the operator. The good news is that recent technological advances in infrastructure mean high performance can be balanced with very attractive cost savings. As I mentioned before, VectaStar provides up to 50% total cost of ownership savings compared to fibre and PTP.
Shahzaib. How should operators adjust their backhaul strategy to ensure keeping up with these trends?
We expect these trends will mean operators expand their backhaul strategies and introduce a wider range of complementary technologies. Fibre is often the desired end game, however getting a link to each connection is often too slow and costly for the short or medium term – or even the long term in some cases.
With high numbers of LTE and small cell deployments on the horizon, we expect wireless will play a growing role as it complements the characteristics of fibre. Fibre gives you unlimited capacity if you are willing to pay, however it is not available everywhere. In contrast, wireless is universally available and there are no locations you can’t get a connection.
A popular strategy is to run fibre from the core to a certain demarcation point. Wireless is used beyond this edge to bring traffic on to the fiber. PMP is a strong fit for this last mile connectivity due to the cost savings it creates in connecting a high density of sites which you typically find in almost all urban scenarios.
Shahzaib. What are the key initiatives taken by CBNL to contribute towards achieving its goals?
CBNL has taken several initiatives to achieve its goals. The main initiative is to continue investing heavily in R&D. When you are strong in the market the danger would be to relax. We have regular discussions on how we can challenge ourselves and continue developing solutions to support customers growing needs.
Over the last 12 months we have launched two new products which are designed to support operators with small cell backhaul and the growing need for LTE capacity. VectaStar Metro is based on the proven technology of our macro products but reengineered to a smaller form factor for street level deployment. We followed this by launching our new wideband platform at this year’s Mobile World Congress which doubles the capacity of both our macro and small cell products to 600Mbps per sector.
We will continue to heavily invest in R&D in the future in order to maintain our innovative edge and technology leadership. This will include introducing more technically advanced product variants, new frequencies and intelligent network management tools to support customers across our growing markets.
Shahzaib. Please tell us more about CBNL’s goals that you are expecting to achieve in coming years?
We have several goals. Firstly we want to maintain our market leading position. This will be a big achievement and strong testament to VectaStar when you consider that the PMP market has been forecast to grow by a factor of ten over the next five years.
Secondly, we are focused on addressing the wider backhaul market where traditionally operators deploy fibre or PTP microwave. The recent capacity and technological advances of VectaStar, coupled with the cost and time to market benefits, position the solution very favorable to play an important role in operator’s strategies. In the short term, we expect a growing number of 3G and enterprise access networks, however this will quickly expand to include LTE and small cell deployments.
Thirdly, we will continue our geographical expansion into new high growth markets, including Asia Pacific, Latin America, Eastern Europe and North America.
And lastly, we will maintain our technology leadership. As I mentioned before, CBNL will continue to heavily invest in R&D to introduce more technically advanced product variants.
Shahzaib. What are the key challenges that the CBNL is expected to face in future?
Gaining market share from fibre and PTP will bring challenges. Challenging the status quo, proposing new business models and changing mind-sets is never easy. However we’re confident the compelling business case for VectaStar positions the technology very positively. Many service providers have already replaced legacy PTP networks with VectaStar and it’s a trend we expect to continue.
I also believe finding the right people and partners to support growth is a key challenge. To be successful, CBNL will need to continue adding highly experienced and talented staff to its team, along with solid global and local partners.
Shahzaib. Please elaborate on the future plans of CBNL?
We want to capitalize on our 14 years of experience to achieve high growth by developing the most technologically advanced products and supporting more customers across more markets. We have the knowledge, expertise, customer base and experience to make this happen and we are keen to repeat the success we have had in our existing markets.
As a company we are not just focusing on the 12 – 18 month timeframe. We are thinking about two, three, five years from now and ensuring we have the right level of investment to deliver our plan. As I explained, strengthening our geographical footprint, local partnerships, internal resources and product innovation will all have a part to play in achieving this. On the offering side, we will continue to bring more features, higher throughput, new form factors, easy and quick to deploy products, SDN and smart management tools….well, put simply, we believe that today we have the best performance over TCO ratio in the market and we will do what it takes to maintain and strengthen that position in the future. I hope that when you visit us next time at CommunicAsia, our booth will be ten times this one. That means we will have achieved our plans.