Readers will recall that Mobile Europe last spoke to Radio Waves’ President Andy Singer a year ago, at which time a commitment to quality manufacturing was foremost in Singer’s strategy, along with the intention to exploit opportunities in cellular backhaul, and in licensed and unlicensed wireless spectrum. So what has changed in a part of the industry that, more than many others, demonstrates exactly where the physical momentum of the wireless industry is heading?
Mobile Europe: Andy, when we last spoke, you had recently opened a manufacturing facility in the UK. You hoped that this commitment to the European market would lead to enhanced customer support and sales. What successes are you seeing in the region and what is driving that?
Andy Singer: Certainly the whole of the EMEA area continues to be a strong area of focus. Within that, it is interesting to note that Eastern Europe and the Middle East are our strongest areas, and we are also seeing a lot of interest in Africa going forward. Geographically it’s a great area and we are seeing strong overall growth.
Mobile Europe: Within that overall growth, what are the hot areas right now?
Andy Singer: What we are seeing in Eastern Europe is a trend towards point-to-point microwave links, for high performance microwave in the traditional bands such as 13, 15, and 23GHz, for backhaul cellular networks. There are also deployments I know of in Eastern Europe where we have found some operators using LMDS at 28GHz for backhaul where they have a really high site density.
We’ve also completed design and delivery of a point-to-point dish at 1.3–1-5 GHz, which is not a US band but has some interesting uses in Europe.
And increasingly we’re seeing a tremendous increase in business in the unlicensed 5GHz band. Certainly last year we really didn’t have a lot of countries where 5GHz was approved. But more and more European countries are approving the unlicensed 5GHz band and, consequently, we are seeing a higher level of interest. What’s amazing about this market is that we are selling through VARs, and the end user could be anybody – a university campus or entrepreneur in an East European company setting up as a WISP. It could be a public utility or a local town government focused on getting internet access for their town.
Every day somebody is doing something different using the technology. Applications such as video security, data and even voice, are all cost effective over a small area at 5GHz.
Mobile Europe: When you mention cellular backhaul, one thing that comes to mind in Europe certainly is the cost reductions available to operators if they can potentially avoid adding extra E1 links, or even replace their existing E1 connections.
Andy Singer: That’s a great area for us because it leads directly into our exciting developments in millimetre wave applications. [Millimetre wavebands are those for radio applications in the 30GHz and above frequencies]
What’s important about this area is that although distance is reduced, the higher frequency offers exponentially higher bandwidths. That opens up applications such as LAN extensions for corporations; educational campuses and hospitals for example can support data network links from one site to another. And if you are in an area where you do have fibre availability, such as in Western Europe, millimetre radio can take you from the fibre ring over the last 1-2km to the customer premise. And it can do so very cost effectively. It’s really an area that is booming in the USA.
And I’m pleased to say that we are co-operating with a high quality manufacturer of radios called BridgeWave, with whom we are selling products.
What BridgeWave has done in 60GHz is to produce a Gigabit radio link with antenna for $20,000, with both ends of the link included. So as your data needs arrive, as long as you don’t need to cover much distance — which is typical in Western Europe where cell site density is very high — millimetre wave links can support that growth. Millimetre can easily provide high capacity backhaul over 1-2km for cellular operators.
Further, as well as BridgeWave’s radios in 60GHz, the company is also developing products in the 70/80GHz bands, known as E-band. And with E band being developed, you’re talking about multiple Gigabit capacity. That kind of usage may not be required today, but operators will need it in the next few years. Networks want to support increasing numbers of video data applications, they’re talking about full movie and TV shows available over the air. Think of the capacity requirements. Think about the bandwidth capability they will require.
Mobile Europe: Perhaps one possible counterpoint in Europe might be that millimetre wave radio is very susceptible to degradation due to rain.
Andy Singer: Yes, the rain limits you to 1-2km, which is why the applications are contained within that structure, but the upside is that you can run multiple links going in the same direction or even on the same roof top as there would not be interference because of the rain absorption and narrow beamwidth.
Mobile Europe: Your strategy of working with BridgeWave reflects your continuing commitment to working with partners and OEMs to address the market.
Andy Singer: Absolutely. A great example is our relationship with Stratex, who have done very well with the Eclipse radio. They have also shown the benefits of mutual innovation in bringing forward new technology for microwave radio — developing a software adaptive radio which can change capacity on the fly. It’s along the lines of the concept of SDR MW radio but with adaptation not by frequency but by capacity.
We are working with a new OEM developing new Microwave radios, and other OEMs, that I can’t name unfortunately. But the thread running joining all these innovative partners is they appreciate the quality and performance of our part of the solution, and our ability to work with our customers and partners on developing the most reliable and highest quality antennas to support their technologies and applications.
Mobile Europe: Indeed, quality seems an ever-present theme within Radio Waves. You are willing to admit that you don’t mind being a little more expensive at the point of sale, as you are confident your reliability and performance will more than pay back customers who accept a small premium on their initial investment.
Andy Singer: We do view ourselves as the Lexus, if you like, of microwave antennas. You may pay a little more, but with the guarantee of fewer problems post-sale, and a higher level of service support.
I still hear stories about how a competitor’s product will arrive on a remote site and it’s the wrong product or has parts missing. Now the customer has got to call the supplier, and he can’t get hold of him and must leave a message that he hopes is returned. At Radio Waves we have people with cell phones on 24/7, including me! A customer with an issue knows they can get hold of someone. They’re not in a situation where they can’t even get a call back from their supplier.
Now, when they do get hold of someone at the competitor who can make things happen, a replacement part goes out to the site, but might take weeks to build and now the site is on a six week delay. Within RadioWaves, it’s very rare something like that would happen, but if it does we would make sure we get a part there as quickly as is feasible. So you take that same situation and work out what the cost is to the operator of six weeks of downtime versus $50 extra for our antenna. If you get it right up front, you can save a lot more down the road.
To that end, across all aspects of our manufacturing, our return rate is less than 0.2 per cent (yes,0 .2 percent), and I’ve never seen a number that low before in antenna manufacturing.
An example of our commitment is that we have implemented a programme called Target Zero, which is a process of educating the workforce to continuously improve our internal philosophy and methods — with the aim of getting zero defects that affect our customer base. This is Six Sigma and beyond. Every week we hold training meetings for the workforce, asking how can we improve and learn from any mistakes we have made. We make sure every employee feels he can contribute and make a difference.
Mobile Europe: And in fact there is an announcement highlighting your commitment to quality that you can share exclusively with us.
Andy Singer: Yes. I am delighted to announce that from March this year Radio Waves will be offering optional RFID tagging on antenna crates and boxes for our customers. As the first antenna company to offer RFID tags, I believe this really shows our manufacturing leadership in the industry.
Mobile Europe: And for your European business, your London facility brings that commitment to quality closer to the market than ever.
Andy Singer: In fact we’ve expanded our London facility, because we needed more space to meet demand. We look on it as a virtuous cycle — as we put money into our own infrastructure and quality processes, then business increases and we can expand space for manufacturing. Our coupler business for example, where we have invested in technological innovation and quality and extended our product range substantially, has been very successful.
If you look at the European business from 2002-2005, you can see an increase particularly in 2005, and we think that is to do with having that London facility.
Mobile Europe: Finally, you are clearly an enthusiast about this industry. What do you like most about working within it?
Andy Singer: As we see the continued increase of broadband networks, or of 5GHz or of millimetre wave, this technology in general is making the world a much better place. Every day we get to be a part of something exciting and help improve standards of living globally.
When Hurricane Katrina and the Tsunami hit, our people immediately worked weekends to have antennas ready and in place for the emergency first responders, and we believe we helped save lives. By healing network infrastructure we had a direct impact on people’s lives and that has made people proud throughout our business.
Flirtomatic says it will use the new funds to further its growth across Europe and the US, expanding its co-marketing efforts with partners that include: AT&T, MetroPCS, Virgin Mobile, T-Mobile and the recent distribution deal with a multi-national operator, launching Flirtomatic across an initial eight countries, under a single payment and billing system.
This year, Flirtomatic, which has more than 2.5 million users in the US and UK, also launched its iPhone, iPod Touch and Android apps and this summer is making its service available via a Blackberry application and on Nokia’s Ovi Store.
“Flirtomatic’s success is built upon ground-breaking monetisation techniques, coupled with a multi-channel distribution strategy. This new investment will allow us to accelerate development in international markets, to continue to drive innovation and build on our position as one of the most viewed mobile sites according to the GSMA and comScore,” said Flirtomatic CEO and co-founder Mark Curtis.
“Flirtomatic is the international market leader with a proven team, best of breed monetisation, and high-profile distribution partners. The fundamentals are compelling and we are excited to be a part of the company’s extensive expansion,” added Javier Rubio, General Partner at Nauta Capital.
“We have been with the company since the early days and are delighted to be an ongoing part of its impressive success. Flirtomatic has really figured out how to attract and engage mobile consumers,” commented Ivan Farneti, Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures.