Enterprise connectivity: opportunity for carriers

06 Jun 2018

In Q4 2017, ARRIS announced the completion of the acquisition of Ruckus Wireless from Broadcom. The rebranded company, “Ruckus Networks, an Arris Company”, remains focused on the enterprise and will continue to manage its channel partner network, which includes carriers.

Telecom Asia recently spoke to Dan Rabinovitsj, president of Ruckus Networks, about how the organization plans to move forward following the change in ownership. According to Rabinovitsj, ARRIS has three main business units: the customer premises equipment (CPE) comprise its portfolio of residential networking solutions including video, set-top boxes and IP video. The networking cloud business unit is focused on infrastructure, including cable modem termination system (CMTS) infrastructure and all the headend equipment and everything associated with optics, hybrid fiber coaxial and coax infrastructure. Cloud services and professional services that span the whole gamut fall into this organization.

Ruckus Networks, which focuses on the enterprise, is the third business unit offering what Rabinovitsj claims is a complete portfolio of switching and wireless technology for the enterprise market. Ruckus operates as a separate business unit inside of ARRIS.

“The best way of thinking about the acquisition is as a diversification play. ARRIS is buying Ruckus to basically start entering, in very significant way, the enterprise market. And the fact we do have a very significant portion of our channel partners as service providers is kind of attractive in that sense, because Ruckus, although we are an enterprise company, a third of revenue is actually coming from channel partners who are major service providers; both fixed line and mobile operators, in some cases,” he explained.

Not a commodity

Rabinovitsj said one of the passions of Ruckus is affordably connecting the next billion users.

“That’s a hard problem to solve actually; it’s one of the hardest problems to solve for the industry, because you need to find a way to deliver a very good user experience, at a reasonable cost to bring those next billion people into the connected world,” he elaborated.

He revealed that the company continues to make investments in markets like India, Africa, and rural Indonesia and the Philippines, “as you try to get the next wave of people connected, you have to figure out a strategy where you are not just throwing money into charity, as over time, those all need to be sustainable businesses,” he explained.

“We also work with service providers who are trying to fulfill their build-out obligations to connect people in their various markets but struggle to do that affordably. We work with many, many service providers around the world to solve that problem.”

He agreed that in parts of developed Asia where broadband is widely available, connectivity is a commodity. “The only differentiation that comes on top of that for a service provider has to be something beyond the pipe,” he commented.

WiFi to bridge widening gap

The world continues to march towards a connected economy. The joint report “Digital in 2017: Southeast Asia” by Hootsuite and Wearesocial estimates that 91% of the world’s internet users, 41% of the world’s population, are connecting from their mobile device. The upward mobility of Asia’s population coupled with the rising trend of e-consumerism has had one negative impact for operators – declining average revenue per user.

He cautioned that the consumption of network data is going up, in some cases, in non-linear fashion. “ARPU is declining in a straight line and data consumption is going non-linear, there is a gap [that represents] what I call the challenge of mobile operators. How are they going to afford the next wave of investment if effectively everybody is paying less and less for the service and using more and more capacity?” he queried.

He acknowledged a growing strategy by operators to offload this traffic to Wi-Fi, to bridge the gap. Wi-Fi’s ability to scale, almost limitlessly, stems from its single biggest advantage – the fact that it is a near universal standard.

“There is a standard and every television, every laptop, every notebook, every handset, if you are going to put a wireless technology in a consumer electronics device today, Wi-Fi is the universal language. Everybody can speak Wi-Fi, if you think it that way. So it has its amazing ability to scale and scale at a very low cost,” he beamed.

“The other thing about Wi-Fi is that every couple of years, we refresh the standard, and push the envelope. We are today at 11AC Wave 2 and we can have a very big channel of 160 MHz; we support MIMO technology. When you go to 11AX, we starting to add LTE capabilities like OFDMA, and even in the uplink, we’ll have OFDMA,” he concluded.

So Wi-Fi every couple of years goes through a fairly significant upgrade in technology, but the cost structure of it has remained very competitive relative to the cellular industry.

Rabinovitsj further attributes this longevity of Wi-Fi to volume and relative simplicity.

It’s also very inexpensive to provide the scale.

“If you were to try to characterize the situation of mobile operators overall, the fact of you can leverage Wi-Fi networks as a way to extend capacity (for a long time, people in the mobile industry kind of treated Wi-Fi offload as a dirty, messy underworld road). Now the mobile operators are very aware they could successfully have their customers roam onto Wi-Fi networks and get very good user experience and reduce the operating expenses associated with the cost of the network,” he continued.

Convergence underway

Rabinovitsj believes a convergence of Wi-Fi and LTE is underway. He cited early investments by Ruckus in coordinated shared spectrum of LTE. As a founding member of the CBRS Alliance, Ruckus sees the potential for shared usage and coordinated spectrum for LTE.

“The way we’ve designed that platform we actually share exactly the same cloud management environment for Wi-Fi, LTE and switching. In a single pane of glass in the enterprise, for example, in this hotel, we could deploy a private LTE network, co-managed and sharing all the same backhaul and infrastructure as Wi-Fi and Ethernet,” Rabinovitsj added.

He called some of the Ruckus innovations – the Wi-Fi-cation of LTE. He stressed that the wave form is not changing. LTE remains LTE, behaving the way it was designed to be. What is different is the deployment model – which follows that of Wi-Fi.

“We use normal Ethernet connections and timing synchronization, we’ve extracted all that complexity away, so you don’t have to be a cellular infrastructure engineer to understand how to get all the pieces to share the same timing,” he added.

He reiterated that the traffic model is the same. It is very expensive to pull out all the data back to the service provider data center because you have to pay for all the traffic. Instead everything is broken out locally.

“We have done a number of things to really reduce the cost of LTE as well. Now, that the converged share spectrum approach, that’s really starting in the US, but we expect to see the same phenomenon spreading around the world,” he added.

OpenG – 5G benefits without the investments

Rabinovitsj takes a very conservative view of 5G rollouts. Instead Ruckus believes that the shared spectrum idea will actually be the next big innovation. He called it OpenG because multiple mobile operators can share the same piece of infrastructure. He noted the potential to create completely private network just for the use of an enterprise. The spectrum is shared, it’s not owned by one entity, which is a really cool innovation.

Ruckus claims that 5G doesn’t really change much of what already operates today. For example voice over Wi-Fi will work unchanged with OpenG. What is does promise is massive footprint expansion at little to no extra cost for mobile operators.

When you pitch it that way, which operator can say no?

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