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April 2011

Small cell, big opportunity

CBNL at Mobile World Congress

February saw CBNL pack its bags for sunny rainy Barcelona for the annual telcofest, Mobile World Congress. That certain buzz the event had been missing for the last couple of years had returned. Each hall was brimming with eager executives ready to demonstrate their latest wares. Although the rain fell on Wednesday and Thursday, not even the weather could put a dampener on the excitement come the end of the week.

Whilst many an eye fixated on a certain Russian company’s dancing girls, operators and equipment vendors were singing the praises of a diminutive product, the small cell.

Discussion centred on the need for the network topology to be reorganised – something CBNL has been discussing for a number of years – and specifically looking at the introduction of a local layer, at street level, to provide better coverage and capacity to subscribers.

Femtos, Picos, Macros. There was lots of confusion about which solution will win out, whether a hybrid approach was best, and what the performance of these small cells actually was. But one thing is certain, change is afoot and it’s going to need backhaul.

Linked to the small cell discussion, point-to-multipoint (PMP) was another phrase reverberating around the Fira. There was much talk about PMP No Line of Site (NLOS) backhaul for small cells. This recognised PMP as a core technology standard for mobile backhaul, but to date few vendors have adopted true PMP architecture. What we do know is that as the PMP market leader, CBNL is in the perfect position and ready to take on the small cell challenge.

The race is on

Africa map

The UK’s communications regulator recently announced the largest ever single auction of additional spectrum for mobile services in the UK. The release of the additional spectrum for fourth generation (4G) mobile is “fuelled by the growth of smartphones and mobile broadband data services such as video streaming, email, messenger services, mapping services and social networking sites.”

Of course, as we all know, the spectrum release only solves half the problem – all that data has to go somewhere once it hits the base station. Backhaul capacity in the UK market is becoming a very big issue, just as it is in the rest of the developing market as operators struggle to keep pace with demand.

Addressing the issues requires some fresh thinking and the traditional approaches aren’t producing the answers. Plugging in more fibre might seem the obvious solution but if you ask your average mobile operator CTO to do so, he or she will tell you that it’s a little more complicated. When you start ‘densifying’ the network you quickly find that the fibre just isn’t available where you want it. Getting it there is not only a huge commitment of capital resources, it’s also fiendishly complex, incredibly disruptive and very time consuming. You have to ask if the resources (cash and people) are available in a sector in which margins are under constant pressure.

“OK, but what about point-to-point (PTP) microwave”, I hear you say.

A fine idea on the surface but it’s a legacy technology that suited the ‘big voice/small data’ environment of old but is much less capable when the position is reversed to ’big data/small voice’. Today each individual PTP microwave link has to be specified to cope with the maximum potential capacity. That is enormously wasteful of increasingly scarce spectrum resources – you can’t make new spectrum so it’s important to use it efficiently.

“Fine, I’ll try WiFi or femtocell offload“

Well, these are technologies that have been around for some time now and they certainly have application, but there’s a reason the market hasn’t been flooded with femtocells and dual mode phones. The fundamental problem is inherent in both technologies. For the operator it means handing off traffic, the family jewels, to a third party network over which it has no control and for which reliability is often questionable.

It’s for these and other reasons that we are seeing increasing interest in Cambridge Broadband Networks’ VectaStar point-to-multipoint (PMP) microwave solutions in the developed markets. The core technology is much more efficient in the way it uses spectrum resources, requires half the radios and the platform is designed to handle gigabit throughputs, more than enough for predicted demand. Coupled to that, a single hub provides 360 degree coverage so that phased upgrades are significantly simplified. Need more capacity in a sector? Then simply add another VectaStar terminal where you need it and point it at the hub.

In this industry we are more used to seeing technology transfer from developed to developing markets. In the move to LTE backhaul the opposite is true – a backhaul technology that ‘cut its teeth’ in developing markets (unencumbered by legacy technologies) is now proving very attractive in mature markets.

CBNL sponsors local school exchange programme to Africa

We are proud to be sponsoring a college local to our UK HQ, Comberton Village College, with their annual African Exchange programme this year.

Comberton Village College annual African Exchange students

After a gruelling selection process, 12 students have been chosen to spend a few weeks at schools in South Africa and Mozambique, helping teach lessons and getting involved in school life. Here is the first exert from their project diary. Watch out for more when they take their trip in a couple of month’s time…

Since 1997 Comberton Village College (CVC) has been involved in a cultural exchange with Edendale School, in South Africa. The school was set-up under Apartheid to provide good quality education for black students. On the school site, which is situated near Cullinan, in Gauteng province, there is a primary and secondary school, as well as an orphanage.

Three years ago CVC also gained a sports exchange partnership with Escola Secundaria Noroeste do 1, in Mozambique. The school is a mixed gender government school with over 4000 students which has very limited resources. 12 Comberton students are selected each year – 6 for South Africa and 6 for Mozambique – to represent the school and offer their services as volunteers to the partner schools.

The idea of the trips is to give us an opportunity to witness at first hand a completely different culture, whilst helping out at schools which are less fortunate than ours.

During our stay we will not only lead lessons as teaching assistants and prepare and run a sports festival at the primary school, but we will also be there to help the children and teachers on a daily basis. For instance, in South Africa, we will be helping out at the Orphanage on site, each afternoon. We also hope to be able to experience some of the culture of these two countries with opportunities for sightseeing and exploring different locations nearby.

As both of these trips are completely different from any other trip we could go on at this age, places are hotly contested every year. We have to undergo a rigorous and fiercely competitive application and interview process, and if selected, have to raise around £2,500 each to take part.

We have to devise a lesson plan to give to a class of 10 year olds and present this as part of the interview process. For this year’s exchanges, the selection process was last May. The twelve of us were very excited to have been chosen and, nearly a year on, are now looking forward to finally going to South Africa and Mozambique, in early July after our GCSE exams.

After a day on a plane, we will arrive with lack of sleep, numb bums and a good intake of airplane food! We will then be ready to take on our challenge, meeting our fellow students at the schools and getting to know them and their country. We will then be helping out in the schools, climaxing with a safari at Kruger National Park, with the Mozambique volunteers coming to join the South African volunteers for this last trip before we fly home.

After a gruelling 24-hour sponsored cycle in early December, which raised £1,500, there was a short lapse in group fund-raising, but we soon turned our eyes to the ‘Auction of Promises’ we had organised. This was held in March, with more than 80 promises auctioned, ranging from balloon flights to a week’s holiday in Spain, with lots valued from £5 to £600. After some fiercely contested bids, we raised the hefty amount of £3,400, which was a huge boost to everyone’s fundraising efforts. Over the last few months, we’ve all been individually fundraising as well, ranging from cake-selling, to escaping from straight-jackets. The fundraising has certainly caught the attention and tantalised the taste-buds of many people!

Finally, on behalf of all of us at Comberton taking part in these trips, we would like to say a huge thank you to CBNL for their extremely generous sponsorship. It has made a huge mountain easier to climb. Watch this space for more news!

The African Exchange Team 2011, CVC.

11 companies to watch for 2011

With our work and strong presence in Africa continuing to grow, it’s with great pride that CBNL has been voted the 2nd company to watch in 2011 by Africa Telecoms Magazine, beaten to the post only by Bharti Airtel.

Africa map

Africa Telecoms reaches the key industry specialists and thought leaders who are helping to craft the African telecommunications landscape. It also prides itself on providing essential telecommunications industry news from across the African market.

This huge accolade pays dividend to the great work Shaneel and his team has achieved over recent years and highlights the inroads we’ve made into Africa in such a short space of time.

Our achievements in Africa include backhauling one of the world’s biggest sporting events in 2010, The World Cup, which led to our framework agreement with MTN Group. We also backhaul the world’s largest 3.75G network for Mobily in Saudi Arabia, providing a significantly greater capacity within the same spectrum allocation. And we power the world’s largest PMP network with Gateway Communication, following which Gateway was awarded the Wireless Network Infrastructure Innovation award by Global Telecoms Business.

The recent investment CBNL secured, as mentioned in the previous edition of Infocast, will help to grow our presence in Africa and the Middle-East, strengthening existing relationships and building new ones with operators.

Commenting on the secured investments, Graham Peel, Cambridge Broadband Networks’ CEO said

“The investment we’ve just secured is both an affirmation of the technology underlying our point-to-multipoint microwave equipment and recognition of the significant opportunities we have available. Our VectaStar solutions meet the needs of mobile operators in growth markets around the world, from EMEA to the Americas and Asia Pacific – all are seeking more efficient means of satisfying the demand for broadband data services.”

This tribute from Africa Telecoms follows a succession of awards and honors from 2010 including CBNL’s ranking as the 198th ‘Fastest Growing Technology Company’ on the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 EMEA, and the ‘Fastest Growing Larger Company’ from the Cleantech Connect Awards.

It also marks a fantastic start to 2011 – let the endorsements continue!

Events diary


18 – 19 April, Dubai


The CBNL team will be sponsoring the next LTE series event in Dubai. Come along and see us – we’d love to meet with you. Email


10 – 12 May, London


We will be speaking and exhibiting at this leading specialist forum for mobile backhaul, RAN and core transport networking professionals.

Come along and see our full working demo and hear Dr John Naylon’s insight into ‘Backhauling your Customers’ Quality of Experience’.

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