As rumored in recent weeks, Cisco has entered the WiMAX market with the $330m acquisition of Navini Networks, a privately held infrastructure vendor based in Richardson, Texas.
Navini develops base station, customer premises equipment (CPE) such as modems and antenna arrays and management software for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) networks in a variety of frequency bands. It has kit for the licensed 2.3GHz, 2.5/2.6GHz, and 3.4/3.5/3.6GHz bands, referred to as the WCS, EBS/BRS, and WLL bands, as well for the unlicensed 2.4GHz ISM band.
It holds a patent on what it calls smart beamforming, which is a signal processing technique used with arrays of transmitting or receiving transducers that control the directionality of, or sensitivity to, a radiation pattern.
When receiving a signal, beamforming can increase the receiver sensitivity in the direction of wanted signals and decrease the sensitivity in the direction of interference and noise. When transmitting a signal, beamforming can increase the power in the direction the signal is to be sent. The change compared with an omnidirectional receiving pattern is known as the receive gain (or loss). The change compared with an omnidirectional transmission is known as the transmission gain. These changes are done by creating beams and nulls in the radiation pattern.
Navini also has the Multi-Input Multi-Output antenna technology that, consensus has it, is as integral a part of 4G wireless technologies as orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing, the modulation scheme used to deliver wideband data rates.
The acquisition finally gives Cisco a wireless WAN technology, after the San Jose, California-based company had studiously avoided entering the cellular market. Most WiMAX networks are in licensed spectrum, so Navini’s customers are primarily carriers, with the CPE side of its business also carrier-delivered.
Cisco said the deal will further the company’s IP Next Generation Network (IP NGN) vision of delivering any service to any device over any network, a vision that Cisco calls the Connected Life. It represents an about-turn for Cisco, which back in 2004 said it wasn’t interested in WiMAX.
Tony Bates, senior VP and general manager of Cisco’s service provider technology group, explained the change of heart. Recently, the WiMAX radio systems to deliver broadband wireless have matured, customers are deploying live networks, and overall investment and demand as increased, he said. Therefore, Cisco views this as the proper time to add licensed WiMAX products to our broadband wireless offer.
Bates described WiMAX as a personal broadband technology, which he said is a CPE-centric, untethered, high-speed, efficient broadband technology that delivers data-intensive services to a wide range of IP devices over a wide area.
He outlined the benefits for consumers and service providers. For users, it’s an additional access technology for the connected home and allows consumers to enjoy high-speed network experiences to a wide range of devices, such as their PC, TV, or phone, he said. Users simply buy a WiMax modem, plug it into their computer, and fire up the service. They don’t have to wait for any lines to be installed or services to be switched on, and if they were to move, they can easily take their modem with them and keep their current service.
As for service providers, by providing the means to users to do the installation themselves, it eliminates the time consuming and costly need for the provider to send a truck out to the customers’ premises, he said. This process is significantly more efficient and cost-effective. In addition, since this is all done over their existing IP Next Generation Networks, providers can now more quickly offer new services to their consumer and small businesses customers.
Jon Hindle, director of service provider marketing at Cisco, said the acquisition is perhaps the first by Cisco in which the primary focus is on the emerging markets. Cisco will be pushing the technology in all those countries where the fixed-line infrastructure is deficient, or even non-existent. China and India are jointly adding about 12 million new cellular subscribers a month right now, said Hindle. With all those cell towers being put up to support them, you have to think they would make suitable places to hand WimAX radios from to do broadband services too.
He said Navini’s CPE kit has both over-the-air activation and monitoring, which means the equipment could be shipped to remote areas in the developing world, turned on and watched by the carrier remotely to make sure it is running correctly.
This deal is a major fillip for WiMAX, already championed by other industry heavyweights like Intel and Nokia, but now with the major IP networking vendor throwing its weight behind the technology.
The big telecoms equipment vendors are formed into two camps on WiMAX. There are the proponents including Alcatel-Lucent, Motorola, Nokia Siemens, and Nortel, plus Intel on the silicon side, and the opponents, Qualcomm and Ericsson. The pro-WiMAX camp was already a weighty one, but now it has Cisco’s marketing muscle behind it too.