ECI Tunes In to Radio Backhaul

ECI Telecom Ltd. upped the ante in the increasingly hot mobile backhaul market today by unveiling an enhanced set of capabilities that includes its own home-grown microwave product, giving the transport and broadband access vendor a full range of technology options to pitch to carriers. (See ECI Adds to Backhaul Portfolio.)

The privately held Israeli vendor, which boasts annual revenues of around US$700 million, is already an established player in the backhaul equipment sector, having pitched its XDM and BroadGate transport product lines to operators for years, with significant success (around 100 backhaul deployments, mostly in emerging markets such as India). (See ECI Pumps Up TDM, ECI Unveils Tiny MSPP, and ECI Adds MPLS.)

Now it sees an opportunity to pick up even more business as carriers migrate from TDM to packet backhaul deployments. (See Ethernet Quickly Eclipsing T1s for Backhaul, MegaFon Raises Russian Backhaul Stakes .) To that end, ECI has been adding packet capabilities to its traditional SDH platforms to offer hybrid solutions, and pushing its Carrier Ethernet gear as a pure packet backhaul play.

But ECI isn't alone. A host of other vendors with TDM experience and packet network capabilities are all doing the same thing, including, but not limited to, the following:

Add to that the microwave backhaul specialists such as Aviat Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: AVNW), Cambridge Broadband Networks Ltd. , Ceragon Networks Ltd. (Nasdaq: CRNT), DragonWave Inc. (AIM/Toronto: DWI; Nasdaq: DRWI), Nera Networks AS , and others, that are addressing the same sector, and you have a very crowded market, albeit a large and growing one -- worth more than $7 billion to vendors in 2009, according to Infonetics Research Inc.

The desire for differentiation
So, in an effort to stand out from the crowd, ECI has enhanced the capabilities of its product lines (enabling native TDM and native packet on the same platforms); added new products to its pure packet Carrier Ethernet Switch Router (CESR) range; and decided to branch out into the radio world by adding its own microwave product line, the BG-Wave family (standalone units and plugin modules), to its portfolio.

And in the context of the market, ECI is keeping up with its microwave rivals. "Until now we've seen a lot of microwave vendors building smarter and smarter Layer 2 and Layer 3 transport network smarts into their microwave products. ECI is coming at this from the opposite direction," notes Heavy Reading senior analyst and backhaul specialist Patrick Donegan.

Not that ECI hasn't been offering a microwave element to its backhaul customers: Currently, it has a partnership with microwave specialist Ceragon. (See ECI & Ceragon Partner.)

So does going it alone in microwave backhaul make sense? Given ECI's large installed base, the revenue upside potential of the new microwave product line is clear and compelling, according to Donegan.

What is not so clear is the impact on ECI's bottom line. "Relying on OEM agreements or joint product development with a specialist microwave vendor such as Ceragon or Aviat would have been a lower-risk approach," says the analyst. "Building its own product portfolio certainly promises greater rewards in terms of synergy with its current portfolio, but it also carries greater risk in terms of exposing its bottom line to a fiercely competitive microwave market driven by RF-savvy vendors that are brimming with wireless heritage and competence."

Not surprisingly, ECI sees things differently. The vendor's senior product marketing manager, Gil Ephstein, says the Ceragon relationship, or indeed any OEM deal, couldn't give ECI all it needed for its complete pitch.

And in terms of the market, ECI believes that adding radio capabilities to a long and deep transport heritage is an easier path to take than adding transport to a microwave platform. "The microwave guys are trying to add networking and more to their products. But for us it's easier to add microwave to our transport experience. The investment for us is not so big, but the advantage is enormous," says Ephstein.

"We hired a bunch of experienced radio specialists to do the development. We have leveraged a lot of experience and have full control over the development. That wouldn't have been possible with an OEM."

Covering the backhaul bases
ECI's goal is to be able to offer carriers a complete package that includes any type of backhaul (TDM, hybrid TDM/packet, or pure packet) across any type of network (copper, fiber, microwave) with a single network management system and professional services support.

By investing in the development of its own microwave product -- a process that took about two years -- ECI has control of the underlying technology, can integrate it with its other platforms, and can ensure the product is fully managed by its LightSoft OSS system.

Ephstein says that by having the full range of backhaul technology and network architecture options, it can work with carriers to determine what is best for the operator's business case and not have to promote a particular technology in favor of another. "We are transport agnostic," boasts Ephstein.

"Our focus is on the best investment protection for the carriers," says the ECI man, who adds that the company has been just as busy developing the supporting professional services (consulting, network planning, business model development, and return-on-investment strategies) that go hand-in-hand with the equipment, where a big focus has been on reducing the physical size and power consumption of the products. (ECI's professional services division has about 400 on staff, the company says.)

Helping the operators plan for the future is a big play for ECI, which is primarily targeting the developing markets. "Most of our customers are building 3G networks but want to be Long Term Evolution (LTE)-ready. However, they don't really know what this means" in terms of what they can do now that will not break the bank but will make network evolution easier in the future, notes Ephstein.

ECI's new microwave products -- a pure packet product and a hybrid product that handles TDM and Ethernet natively on the same platform -- will be commercially available by the end of the year, when ECI will be pushing its own products ahead of those from partner Ceragon.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

mplape 12/5/2012 | 4:30:01 PM
re: ECI Tunes In to Radio Backhaul

I'm confused.  Is this article about microwave backhaul vendors or the larger general backhaul transport gear market?  If its about microwave backhaul I would say that most of the vendors in the table mentioned do not make mw radios.  Also only a subsegment of the mw bh vendors listed make a "packet" radio.  So I am confused on what Ray is saying about having "a very crouded market" when it looks like he is including the wireline transport gear is competing with mw radio gear.

digits 12/5/2012 | 4:29:59 PM
re: ECI Tunes In to Radio Backhaul

Hi mplape

'Is this article about microwave backhaul vendors or the larger general backhaul transport gear market?'

It's about both, because ECI is adding microwave to its backhaul portfolio so it has wireline transport and microwave products that support TDM and packet transport.


' If its about microwave backhaul I would say that most of the vendors in the table mentioned do not make mw radios.'

The list/table of companies is of the traditional transport companies that are also addressing the migrating to packet in the backhaul market. Then I mention the microwave backhaul players to show that ECI is competing with a great many companies with its backhaul portfolio.

The backhaul-for-mobile-operators market is very crowded with many vendors offering many different solutions. Whether operators have wireline or microwave backhaul networks (or a mix), ECI now has its own suite of products to compete in all areas, but it is up against a lot of fierce rivals.

The market is large, complex, and crowded. I was trying to show just how many big name and experienced players there are in this market, and how ECI fits into it with its portfolio. Apologies if this didn't quite come across. 

themicrowaveguy 12/5/2012 | 4:29:52 PM
re: ECI Tunes In to Radio Backhaul

This new product is clearly based upon their Broadgate optical transport line (hence the 'BG' in BG-Wave). Like other vendors such as Huawei, ECI are presumably adding a microwave plug-in interface to their optical transport line, and (also like Huawei) probably licensing an existing OEM ODU from someone like Remec (looks very likely from the ODU specifications). Hardly a new idea, and not very competitive with designed-for-purpose microwave systems on the market.

themicrowaveguy 12/5/2012 | 4:29:50 PM
re: ECI Tunes In to Radio Backhaul

In response to the comment regarding Packet Microwave vendors, the only microwave vendor who doesn't make point to point packet microwave is Cambridge, who make point to multipoing microwave that can be used for backhaul in a few specialist frequency bands, in some countries. All the other vendors make radios that can support pure packet or all-IP transmission.

The Packet Microwave label is used by some vendors in an attempt to place vendors who support hybrid TDM+Ethernet into some kind of inferior category. The fact is that these radios not only are able to support pure Packet, but also pure native TDM AND hybrid native TDM plus packet, instead of being essentially IP-only.

ronyko 12/5/2012 | 4:29:41 PM
re: ECI Tunes In to Radio Backhaul

AS the article states there's a BG add-on as well as a stand alone product.

ronyko 12/5/2012 | 4:29:41 PM
re: ECI Tunes In to Radio Backhaul

MWguy, Uhmm, I wonder where do you see the local optimization in the ODU part of a split-mount radio yielding a technological advantage. Modern systems are develped as a whole IDU-ODU combo, and if you master the Modem technology you can develop a real edge for the entire radio link.

themicrowaveguy 12/5/2012 | 4:29:40 PM
re: ECI Tunes In to Radio Backhaul

There is little discrimination in the ODU these days apart from a few dB's of power advantage either way. The modem too is now essentially a commodity, with many vendors choosing to use advanced off-the-shelf products from Provigent, etc.

MW vendors have a choice. Produce the cheapest dumbest pipe, or go the other way and add more value in the form of integrated Ethernet switching, multi-service and multi-transport interfaces, etc. Most mobile operators seems to be looking for more functionality in the radio, not less. Other features like nodal support, network ring protection and strong security are also becoming more sought after.

ronyko 12/5/2012 | 4:29:39 PM
re: ECI Tunes In to Radio Backhaul

I think that ECI is building on their expertise in Carrier Ethernet to build a sophisticated Radio-L2-MPLS product rather than just a "dumb" pipe.

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