Is LTE a better option than Wi-Fi?
（Latin American reporter interviewed Baicells CEO）
WI-FI has become a widely used technology seen as a more economical means of always-on
wireless broadband than LTE,especially for indoor environments or pubilc spaces.
However, US company Baicells Technologies argues that because LTE was designed for outdoor wireless rather than indoor, LTE signals tend to hold higher modulation levels in the face of natural obstructions like vegetation.
Regulators in the US are opening up more unlicensed spectrum for mobile broadband. The so-called Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band (3.55 GHz-3.7 GHz) will enable small operators to build their own private networks with minimal interference, similar to levels seen in licensed spectrum. And LTE will be the technology of choice because of technical advantages outdoors, a growing set of devices, backward compatibility with previous standards and low costs.
LTE-technology firm Baicells sees similar trends occurring in Latin America and is keen to expand in the region. Ahead of the company’s visit to Brazil next week for Futurecom, BNamericas spoke to CEO Sun Lixin to discuss what market opportunities he sees in the region.
BNamericas: Baicells’ LTE technology provides broadband access to areas where fiber or Wi-Fi isn’t practical. Latin America is expected to see 28% penetration of LTE by end-2017 and 59% by 2021. Is that a growth rate that’s fast enough to support Baicells’ strong growth path?
Sun Lixin: We’ve developed more than 400 WISP customers in North America. Latin America is different to North America, but it’s growing very rapidly economically, especially Brazil and Argentina.
Considering there’s a population of over 500mn, the network penetration is set to improve over the next decade. We’ve seen great potential in these areas and in the future the Latin America market will be a strategic focus for us in terms of investment in R&D and marketing.
BNamericas: Baicells’ technology can use unlicensed spectrum. Have you seen any opportunities in unlicensed spectrum in Latin America to date? Is that spectrum available for use and how do you cut out interference? Are there regulations on its use?
Sun Lixin: Baicells started research on LTE-U several years ago and today we have mature solutions and products and are conducting field tests with a telecoms operator in the US.
The concern most people have with LTE-U is signal interference between LTE and Wi-Fi. To resolve this problem our solution adopts LBT technology [Listen before Talk – whereby a radio transmitter first senses its radio environment before starting a transmission and can look for an interference-free radio channel to operate on].
LTE based on unlicensed spectrum is definitely an emerging trend in the telecoms industry. The US and Japan have already announced policy on the use of unlicensed spectrum and we expect more countries to do so in the future.
BNamericas: In which countries in Latin America have you seen most growth and most opportunities for growth to date?
Sun Lixin: All countries in Latin America are growing very fast and all are target areas. We’re first looking to enter Brazil and Argentina given the scale and size of population and will gradually expand to other countries.
BNamericas: Are these clients mostly mobile operators, ISPs, cable operators, MVNOs, governments, companies?
Sun Lixin: Our products are for whoever needs them. Baicells’ core competency is connectivity. But beyond that, we also help ISPs to solve their OPEX by reducing their tower footprint and by using PTP backhaul. We look at how to help mobile operators boost their profitability. In addition, we have a series of wireless solutions for vertical industries.
BNamericas: Few countries in the region have auctioned the 700MHz band so far. Is the 700MHz band and maybe other bands essential for Baicell’s growth prospects?
Sun Lixin: Spectrum is the key to our success. Once spectrum is made available that brings opportunities. The 700MHz band is a key spectrum for us which enables better coverage for rural areas and we think it offers revenue growth opportunities for us in Latin America.
BNamericas: Do you see any obstacles to infrastructure rollouts at the moment? Like municipal permits to building antennas?
Sun Lixin: Yes, this is a very common issue in the wireless broadband market and we’re always looking for ways to help our customers resolve these issues. We’re currently working on a new business model to reduce the potential for obstacles and which is a win-win scenario for the end-user, the mobile operator and a third party like a municipality. On the other hand, we’re trying to address these issues technically. For example, the small size of our base stations means civil engineering works can be completed much faster. We also have a built-in antenna, with an integrated base station which doesn’t use up any space on the tower. These technologies open up the possibility for the customer to use small cell to increase their coverage and capacity.
BNamericas: Baicells offers a series of products that fit with operator transitions to software-defined and cloud-based networks. What do you see driving operators in that direction and which of Baicells’ solutions are most in demand, and why?
Sun Lixin: We think the need to cut capex and opex costs and greater scalability for future network upgrades will be the main drivers of the adoption of software-defined solutions. We believe our cloud- based core networks (EPC), and cloud-based OMC/BSS systems will help address this trend. They are light, flexible and scalable. A pay-as-you-grow business model also helps us and the customer to grow together.
BNamericas: Baicells will be attending Futurecom next week in one of your target markets in Latin America, Brazil. What does the company most hope to get out of that conference?
Sun Lixin: We’re going to be at FutureCom, not just to sell, but also to network and seek partners and learn about market trends. There’s proverb that goes, “if you want to go fast, you can walk alone; if you want to go further, you have to walk together.”
About Sun Lixin
Baicells’ CEO Sun Lixin has over 20 years of experience in the wireless telecommunications industry and a broad range of expertise in areas including new product development, research, standards and technical marketing.
A regular attendee of ITU-R and 3GPP meetings since 1998, Lixin has contributed to global 2G CDMA, 3G 1xRTT, UMTS, HSPA and 4G LTE radio interface standards and network architecture design.
Before he founded Baicells Technologies, he worked with Huawei, heading their strategy and standards department, managing and overseeing global wireless research across Huawei’s wireless product line.