Vecima Networks Casts a Wide Net

By Jeff Goldman

January 12, 2009

After ten years in the wirless business, BC-based WISP, Vecima Networks, has a full portfolio of Wi-Fi and WiMAX solutions to offer its customers, both in North America and around the world.

Vecima Networks, based in Victoria, British Columbia, was founded back in 1988 as Wavecom Electronics, with a focus on DOCSIS-based products for the cable industry—and that's still a large part of the company's business, according to Robert Forget, Vecima's director of wireless product management.

Wavecom eventually changed its name to VCom, Forget says, because of name confusion with the French wireless company. Then, because VCom was also already registered in some countries, the company's name was changed once again to Vecima. "We wanted to have a completely unique name that we'd be able to register internationally, because more and more of our business is driving into the international markets," he says.

The company entered the wireless market back in 1998, Forget says, when they noticed a key market opportunity. "We realized that a lot of the work that we were doing for DOCSIS was RF-based, and since it was RF-based we thought, 'If we up-convert a DOCSIS signal into the higher frequency ranges, we could have, at the end of the day, a wireless DOCSIS product,'" he says.

Recycling cable infrastructure

That became Vecima's BWIN (Broadband Wireless Internet Network) product, which the company still sells today. "We now have over 40 variants in different frequency ranges for international use around the world in both licensed and unlicensed bands," Forget says. "It basically recycles all of the infrastructure that a cable company would already have in place."

For a cable company considering a wireless deployment, that can be a very strong selling point. "On the CPE side, it uses cable modems, and on the base station side it uses a CMTS," Forget says. "So a lot of cable companies have implemented our BWIN system, because their management tools and everything that they have on the back end stay the same."

In 2006, Vecima acquired WaveRider, giving the company a 900 MHz solution for unlicensed deployments in North America. "It filled out the portfolio for us," Forget says. "We didn't have a lower cost, unlicensed solution that didn't require a CMTS at the base station and cable modems at the CPE side, and when we purchased WaveRider, we did the design change for a next generation product."

WiMAX products

The company entered the WiMAX market in 2004, writing their own MAC layer and working with Wavesat for the PHY. "Currently, we've got three frequency variants for WiMAX: we have the 3.3-3.8 GHz for licensed, we also have a 1.9 GHz for licensed that's deployed primarily in Australia, and then we have the 3.65 GHz solution, which is our newest variation of the equipment, to take advantage of the newly opened-up lightly-licensed band in the U.S.," Forget says.

One key strength of the WiMAX product, Forget says, is that it's a single-unit solution. "We implemented the PHY, the MAC, the baseband IF, and the RF all in a single ruggedized unit," he says. "So for WISPs who don't have access to a 10 foot by 12 foot enclosure at the base of their tower, they don't need it—they can install one of our units up on the tower by itself without having to worry about the back-end issues that surround some of the split IF/RF solutions."

Pricing and support

Pricing, Forget says, is another differentiator for the WiMAX products. "People are looking for low-cost equipment, because they're typically replacing or building-out based on an existing deployment of, often, Canopy equipment or a similar Wi-Fi-like solution. We're at a point where it's an inexpensive solution that they can very easily deploy with low capex and find that ROI a little bit faster," he says.

"Pricing is always important, especially right now," he says. "And I don't know if it's something that's ever going to go away. Everybody needs to take a hard look at their pricing model, and what they're doing and how they're approaching the market. I think the days of folks coming out with a $1,000 per-unit cost on CPE are gone."

The company offers standard two-year warranties on all of its products, and doesn't charge for software upgrades. "Whenever we come up with a software upgrade for feature set improvements, it's pushed to all of our customers for free—that's not something that we typically charge for on a reccurring basis," Forget says.

Support, Forget adds, is a key focus. "We have a wireless applications engineering support group, where we have dedicated engineers that help out our customers with initial deployments, configuration, and optimization, and they're also available for in-field work," he says. "So we have our engineers traveling to a lot of our different customer sites to help out with their first deployments, help train their engineers and make sure that everything goes smoothly moving forward—which is, I think, in both of our best interests."

Jeff Goldman is a veteran technology journalist and Wi-Fi expert based in Southern California. Article courtesy of ISP-Planet.

Originally published on .

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