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Tue 22 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Wireless world

Harald Braun, CEO of wireless network specialist Harris Stratex Networks tells CommsMEA about the company's continued growth in Africa and how it is helping its customers overcome a range of wireless network challenges.

Wireless world

Harald Braun, CEO of wireless network specialist Harris Stratex Networks tells CommsMEA about the company's continued growth in Africa and how it is helping its customers overcome a range of wireless network challenges.Where are your main markets?

We are present in most regions: North America, Latin America, Europe, Russia and the Middle East, Asia Pacific, and Africa. We are the market share leader in North America and do the majority of our business there.  But what a lot of people don't know is that 30% of our revenue comes from Africa. This is a huge amount of business and a huge percentage.

Traditionally we have also been strong in the Middle East, and our headquarters for the region is in Dubai. However growth there has now slowed down a bit because of the macro-economic environment. But in other areas, in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and other areas, there is action, and there is money and people know what they want.

From our experience, the Middle East is very much a mobile market because the business case for mobile is better than wireline, and that is working in our favour. What we are seeing in the Middle East region is mobile all over the place and we have a good established name there. We do work with companies including Mobily and Zain.

What is your main area of specialisation within the wireless sector?

We lead with microwave. The challenge for our customers is always how they get long distances done. They want to know how far they can they push fibre from the core systems to the tower, and then from the tower to the next tower, and they want to know where WiMAX fits into the equation.

When the customers have WiMAX licences, they can do access, and then we can also talk about transition from microwave to WiMAX at the tower and then get into the access business. Some of our clients don't know that they have wireless service gateways on the core side which means in some cases we have an end-to-end solution. From the core, via our wireless access gateways, to the microwave and then via WiMAX to the end user - suddenly you have an end-to-end business.

We can also wrap services around this kind of end-to-end solution. We have a full suite of services, from training and preparation for consultation for the customer, over to network planning, network design and commission, build and installation of the network. Then we can also do the lifecycle services, and in some cases we run the network operation centre.

How is growth overall at the moment?

We have to distinguish between countries and of course the environment changed significantly in September and October last year, which hit growth. The growth was close to double digit in terms of percentage year-on-year. I would say at the moment it is 3% to 4% but the plan was for 6%-10%.

But the drivers are still there for mobile networks with the arrival of Blackberrys, Gphones, iPhones and the datacards. The trend is still there, the drivers are in place and it is just a question of time, and we are pretty patient because we can see that the operators have to invest in their networks. We are also growing with a major project we have in Saudi Arabia.

You said Africa is a very important market for Harris Stratex. What work do you do there mainly and what is driving business in the region?

The majority of the technology we are pushing in Africa is microwave and now it is good to see that more bandwidth will be brought into the region with the Seacom cable. What we are doing at the moment is basically based on microwave.

I have been talking to customers in different countries in Africa, including Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Ghana among other countries. WiMAX is very important for them. Some of them have licences, and they want to push it out as fast as possible to their subscribers.

Everywhere I go, the topic of discussion in Africa is WiMAX. Mainly we do voice but our systems are all built for IP data, so we are waiting for these companies to go from voice to data, using the networks for data traffic, video downloads, email and so on instead of just voice.

We are pushing WiMAX-16 e, the mobile WiMAX because it offers real mobility and it is what I would like to use. We can also do WiMAX-16 d, but the focus of our strategy is mobile WiMAX. I believe that is the future. It is the fastest technology out there and has the biggest bandwidth and it is available right now.

What challenges do you see facing operators in Africa at the moment?

They need to become more efficient and there is more potential in the existing network to make more efficient use of it, therefore we have a network optimisation offering. This is an important portion, although on the other side, it competes with the application of new technology.

The question is whether customers should make existing networks more efficient for the next year or invest directly in the next generation of network, and it is a case by case decision. If there is a good solid network there and they can do some quick optimisation with our product portfolio, we are all for it.

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