NETWORK EQUIPMENT STRATEGY
Integrated RAN solutions and 'whitebox' cell-site routing are key requirements carriers will demand from BTS antenna vendors
BTS ANTENNA VENDORS OFFER DIFFERENTIATED PRODUCT APPROACHES
There used to be a time when carriers would pay top dollar for BTS Antennas and sub-systems required to ensure connectivity for their customers.
Our research into this domain shows that with their revenue being relatively flat compared to data throughputs on the cell site, carriers have been forced to keep CAPEX and OPEX spending in check, in part by diversifying their BTS Antenna vendors and sourcing RAN systems from a variety of new network equipment manufacturers. Chinese vendors such as Huawei and Comba have been particularly successful at penetrating carrier operations not only in emerging markets, but also in North America and Western Europe.
Some BTS antenna vendors have responded to this trend by adjusting their global strategies and offering:
1. Globally Varied Pricing and Customer Service: Our research shows that vendors such as CommScope, Huawei, Kathrein, and Comba regularly offer different pricing in different regions globally, and even occasionally offer different pricing within the same region for different customers, depending on the state of local competition.
They also conditionally offer specific performance and service capabilities based on what individual carriers specifically valued. For example, if a customer valued faster delivery service, vendors figure out how to guarantee delivery of base stations in less than the standard period of 4 weeks.
2. Direct Localized Support and Services: According to our research, many BTS Antenna vendors now assign their customers localized contracted support and services to ensure a timely resolution of any network issues arising at the cell site.
Here, services are becoming an increasingly important part of the value proposition that many BTS antenna vendors are providing, especially in emerging markets. For example, for Etisalat UAE, Comba not only provides Etisalat UAE with BTS antennas; at volume, its pricing will also cover site preparation, site delivery, installation, maintenance, warranties, and all costs associated with the full replacement of antennas, if needed.
This service element stands out as being an important Competitive advantage for some BTS Antenna vendors, and is an important and effective tool for them to compensate for the lower quality product they offer to their CSP customers.
3. Best of Suite Approach: Our research shows that only some BTS Antenna vendors offer an entire solution in their sales pitch, and not just an antenna. This “site in a box” approach includes an antenna, cables, connectors, kits and tools. Our interviews with large CSPs such as Etisalat, Telefonica, and Orange shows that this approach saves the customer from being invoiced from many different suppliers, as all components would be under one part number, and would be invoiced together. Bundling is, therefore, key to the strategy of certain BTS Antenna vendors, and allows them to offer lower pricing without lowering the price of single products, as all products would be discounted across the board.
INTEGRATED RAN AND WHITEBOX ROUTERS VIEWED AS THE NEXT BIG OPPORTUNITY FOR BTS ANTENNA VENDORS
Our conversations with CTOs and CTIOs at some of the largest telcos in the world who are part of IEMR's Enterprise Panel, shows that as carriers move to a 5G world and as virtualization standards such as OpenRAN, ONAP (Open Network Automation Platform), and OPNFV (Open Platform for NFV) begin to mature, many Tier 0 carriers with strong technical capabilities are looking to decouple hardware and software from their traditional RAN and backhaul vendors.
In the view of many of these carriers, this provides an opportunity to BTS Antenna vendors to fill the gap both in the RAN hardware space and in whitebox routing functions optimized to radio networks. Carriers are finding that their existing engagements with start-ups that offer such solutions on the software side is not optimal as these startups may not have the technical capability to fully understand their network topology and the complexity of their cell-site routing environment. In their view, the next layer down from their existing RAN and routing vendors are BTS Antenna providers that have shown the technical ability to understand not just the RAN hardware requirements but also are much larger companies compared to the newer vendors emerging in this domain