Perpetual state of upgrade
Anritsu was founded in 1895, the year in which Marconi successfully demonstrated the world’s first wireless telegraph, as a company providing electronic components for the communications industry. Since those early days, the development of Anritsu has traced the emergence of modern communications, and its history has run concurrently with the evolution of information and communication networks.
Jonathan Borrill first became involved with the company in 2001, after several years working with the UK government with what is now called Qinetiq – in those days it was a government research laboratory working on communications research. Borrill had previously graduated from Southampton University with a degree in electronics, specialising in communications and optics, in the late 1980s – just as the optics department at the university was entering a period of sustained growth.
He explains: ‘I was taken on at Anritsu to get involved in wireless projects and to launch 3G. This represented something of a funny quirk; coming from information theory and communications, I had worked a lot on technologies that were quite well established and were only picked up in the wireless field later. I had three years responsible for wireless communications products within Anritsu – then, in 2004, I moved over to Sweden where I was sales manager for a couple of years.’
Borrill started working on a project to introduce the long-term evolution (LTE) business, in 2006/2007. He explains: ‘Typically, as a company, we were five to seven years ahead of the technology; I was working to prepare the business launch and getting ready to bring the products to market. Then, from 2009, I took over the marketing responsibilities and also did a couple of stints working as sales manager in Sweden and also in the UK. In the last two years I have been focusing on the marketing operation in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.’
Sales and marketing in an uncertain global economy has not been without its challenges, Borrill says. The European test and measurement market is more or less flat, he says – though of course it has, and has always had, peaks and troughs: ‘In general terms, Europe has moved more towards being a research and development market rather than a manufacturing market.
He adds: ‘More and more these days we are seeing wireless developments driving our core business, the metro and the access backhaul, with a lot of activity in access networks jumping to megabit and now to gigabit links, requiring 10G fibres to every base station. It’s amazing to think that, not very long ago at all, two megabytes on a twisted cable would have been enough.’
Across the huge EMEA area, there are clear differences in terms of different markets in different countries, Borrill says.
‘In Europe there are some clear hotspots for research; Nordic countries, for example, have lots of wireless technology research going on, with Ericksson and Nokia very prevalent. The UK, France and Germany are all very strong on aerospace and defence industries.
‘In many European countries, as well as in the Middle East and Africa, there is a big demand for an underlying telecom infrastructure, whereas in the UK, where there is a legacy situation and an incumbent network operator, it’s more of a refresh market. In much of Africa, of course, you are dealing with green field markets where you are starting out with nothing, effectively – so there are very different challenges in different markets around the world.’
There are also clear differences apparent in terms of how far ahead companies are looking in terms of future-proofing networks. While Anritsu is typically thinking three years ahead in terms of setting up a system and getting it up and running, the typical lifetime of the core technology involved might be 10 years.
‘The situation is very dynamic right now,’ explains Borrill. ‘Networks are generally designed with legacy in mind, with the intention of squeezing out as much value as we can. There is a lot of talk now about where the “breaking point” might be, and when it is best to move on to a blank sheet of paper and to build a system afresh. It’s something that has to be considered very much on a case-by-case basis.’
Borrill says the next few years in the European telecom markets are likely to be defined by capacity increases and new incremental technology: ‘In terms of access technologies, it’s an ongoing case of “upgrade, upgrade, upgrade”, from the fixed lines to fibre roll-outs. In some markets, such as Sweden, things are moving quicker and quicker; some other markets, by way of contrast, are moving quite slowly in this respect.’
Of course, wireless access technology is moving very fast these days too – as is Anritsu’s involvement in this market. The core networks are generally moving to 100G or 400G, with plenty of opportunities for Anritsu in terms of research and development in the accompanying technologies. Looking across to the Middle East and Africa, where the green-field situation still exists, there will become a clear increase in spending in the coming years as countries look to roll out fresh networks where there have been none in the past.
Borrill concludes: ‘From Anritsu’s point of view, we have a long history in the fibre business and in optical research. These remain very important markets for us, and in Europe we see this as a very good long-term prospect. We are lucky to be right at the leading edge of things in terms of developing and testing smartphones, but even more fortunate that, as a company, we are dealing with the whole communications industry, rather than just one segment. It puts us in a strong position for the future.’