New Xirrus CEO Shane Buckley has only been in the job for two weeks, replacing iconic founder and former CEO Dirk Gates.
Xirrus works with a wide range of organisations globally, including blue chip companies such as Salesforce.com and Microsoft, the US Marines, and many NHS Trust hospitals. It was named the Wall Street Journal's #1 venture-backed technology company in 2011, and is second only to Cisco in the wireless market - a market growing at 30% year on year.
Buckley took the time to stop off at CBR's offices to discuss the new role, the state of the Wi-Fi industry in the UK, and the company's plans for 2012.
Xirrus CEO Shane Buckley
Gates has stepped aside as CEO, but remains in charge of strategy. How do you replace a company founder and figure of some renown?
"It's actually fantastic from my perspective. Sometimes when you change your leadership the old goes out, the new comes in and there's no continuity. Here I actually have a trusted advisor and council on the left hand side who can tell me how things were. I'm actually pretty lucky."
Won't there be some tension in the decision making hierarchy? We've seen similar founder/CEO changeovers go wrong, such as at Yahoo...
"No, in fact it's almost the complete opposite. Dirk was the one who went to the board and said, 'hey, I'm a founder/CEO and entrepreneur. I can take the company this far, and now you need to bring in somebody to take it to the next level.' So it was actually his idea, and he ran the search. It was really important from his perspective and mine that we really gelled and connected."
So what draws you to the industry?
"[Wireless] is an amazing market right now. It's a $3.2bn market growing at 30% per annum - there's nothing else like it right now in technology. It's super-hot right now."
What makes this a golden time for wireless technology companies?
"The best analogy is to compare the market right now to when the world went from hubs to switches back in the 90s. Back then [a business] shared all its bandwidth. Then you put in these switchboards and they gave you full capacity, about 10 megs at the time, per user. It was huge. The transition [to wireless] is a transition on that scale.
"So we are like 'wireless switch' for the market, an Ethernet switch in the sky, call it what you will. With BYOD trends, the fact that people are looking to cut the ethernet cord completely on their laptops, especially with their Apple and Android tablets. At the moment, people are beaming these things into the workplaces, and they're flat lining networks. The performance on networks is appalling, from a wireless perspective, in most organisations.
"The latest Gartner report suggests that the average speed is only 2mbps, per user. Who can operate a business at 2mbps? It's pathetic. Your home connection is probably running 5mbps in most metropolitan areas."
So what is the main problem here?
"It's a scalability problem. As I just described, networking as a whole has followed Moore's Law - demand increases by 100% every 18 months. We've always made sure the infrastructure outstrips the clients demand. The reality is that the switch networks have gone from 10mbps share to 10mbps dedicated, per user. Then to 100mbps dedicated switch. Then to 1Gb, with 100mbps dedicated. It has evolved way faster than the access layer.
"Wireless is the same thing. You've seen a huge increase in throughput in the past 10 years, but it remains a shared medium. So 20 people pitch up into a meeting on 2mbps and 'boom' - there goes the network.
"That just doesn't work. Customers are used to having a better and more stable infrastructure. This kind of situation is crippling wireless network uptake. Its seen as too risky to make an office completely wireless because of these experiences."
What about municipal Wi-Fi filling the gaps? A lot of these initiatives seem to have fallen over - especially in London. Why?
"The problem with metro Wi-Fi's technology is that the 'big bang theory' doesn't work. No one's going to write a cheque for $300 million dollars in the event that someone wants to read an email while they're waiting for a bus. The economic model isn't there. Economic models also move much faster these days - the time to revenue is now very, very short. People want to monetise their investments very quickly.
Well where does public wireless work then?
"Look at education. No one has been able to run ethernet cables to the desks of every child. Otherwise it would've happened years ago. Education isn't in that position, because people work and move desks and desks move around rooms - it's just not practical. So wireless has been popular there for about 3-4 years because it works more one on one, and in small groups. It's a specific need for a specific problem.
"Other areas it works well are in e-health. There are several initiatives the world over where people need online access to data, say for people that don't have access to a specialist clinic. They can reach a specialist who can read a scan of an x-ray or an MRI instantly over wireless. Then the problem becomes training enough chief nursing offices to liaise with them. Again, a very specific use case.
So metro Wi-Fi has been a victim of the recession then?
"We're still in a downturned economy worldwide. People aren't going to speculate and put hundreds of millions on infrastructure in the event that there might be a need.
Is wireless always going to be a problem in the UK due to our proliferation of ancient buildings? They are hard to install into?
"Actually the opposite is true. Most of the city and many of the older buildings in the UK are impossible to wire. They don't have raised roofs, dropped ceilings and the walls - they weren't built with that matrix approach in mind. Chasing walls to put in a £200 access point is just not economic. Then it costs you £2000 pounds to get a cable into a £200 device. Where's the logic in that? You then have to do this every time a new standard comes out.
What about the potential in 4G mobile networks?
"The first problem with 4G is you don't have the penetration in urban areas. Even when it's there - have you checked the battery level of your device? Your phone life would be halved if you had 4G enabled. We find customers turning on Wi-Fi wherever possible so they don't have to kill their batteries on 4G. So you're back to square one.
What have been some of your key customers in the UK? Are you seeing any BYOD trends emerging?
"We'll be announcing a new customer over the next couple of months, a borough Council here in London that is implementing our system right across the borough. So they're implementing a fully mobile environment where workers can access information in the area - whether you're sitting in Starbucks, you're sitting at home, you're in the office. You can bring any device you like into the infrastructure, and it's secure.
"All of these companies are encouraging BYOD for a simple reason - they don't want to have to buy you a device anymore. You're far less likely to spill coffee on a device that you've paid your own hard earned money on.
So where is Wi-Fi going to next?
"The next generation of wireless is [802.11] a/c, which will start appearing over the next twelve months. It's the successor to the current 802.11g and n standards, and can potentially output 1Gbps.
"The good thing here is that the price of the chips for the older standards will fall. The cool thing about that is that it lets a whole other class of devices to emerge. Wi-Fi DVD players - who buys a DVD player without wireless now? Wireless televisions - why do you need to have all those cables behind your TV? These things used to run to an antenna on our roof tops - that's just 10-15 years ago. Now it connects to the internet or your laptop via wireless.
"The next problem is the application layer. It used to be that setting up wireless networks was a really complicated thing to do. Now the technology is reaching a point where these things automatically detect each other and connect together. Then they can communicate. In the modern home now you can get 10mbps easy, and most homes will now have some 10-15 devices connected simultaneously. Workplaces will head this way soon. They have to. Most people now own 3 wireless devices, and they can't continue to be excluded from enterprise."
So is the UK that far behind? How do we compare to other countries overseas where Xirrus has a presence?
"South Korea has leveraged wireless technology significantly for a long period of time, so they are pretty advanced. The Nordic countries too are very advanced when it comes to wireless adoption and integration into daily life.
"The UK from an education perspective has come a very long way in a short time. The government has put a lot of money into a lot of initiatives, in very much the same way the US government has done. That's not just the wireless, but the devices and the one to one teaching, and the associated applications in the back end. The UK is very solid from a global perspective.
"Enterprise wise - particularly banking and retail - we are way, way behind other countries. I now live in California, and it has Wi-Fi hot spots in bars, restaurants, libraries, shopping malls. The UK is a huge market opportunity for us.
"The revenue model in the UK is also broken - people attempting to use our hotspots are paying £5-6 pounds per access - it's just not going to happen. No husband is going to spend £5 to check the sports scores while he waits for his wife to do her shopping. It's just not economic. So the ability to monetise the wireless infrastructure here is still not working.
"In the US you get special offers, coupons and ads pushed at you. Providers have monetised free Wi-Fi that way. The commercial structure in the US is something the UK can definitely learn from.
Where next for Xirrus?
We plan to continue on the growth path we're on; I want to grow sales by 50% year on year. At some point there will be an exercise where we go to public markets through an IPO for the company. There's no rush to do that though. Most of our investors have very deep pockets and want to see the business grow further first."
Shane Buckley has 19 years of executive management, expanding business and markets worldwide. He was the General Manager and Senior Vice President at Netgear where he led the commercial business unit to 50% growth over 2 years, reaching $330 million in 2011 - and played a prime role in growing corporate revenues by 30%. Prior to that he was President and CEO of Rohati Systems, a leader in Cloud-based access management solutions, Chief Operating Officer of Nevis Networks, a leader in secure switching and access control. He has also held the position of Vice President WW Enterprise at Juniper Networks, President International at Peribit Networks, a leader in WAN Optimization and EMEA vice president at 3Com Corp. Mr. Buckley is a graduate of engineering from the Cork Institute of Technology in Ireland.
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