Comba rides on microwave

The China-based telecommunication equipment maker is touting digital microwave networks as a less costly alternative to wired communication infrastructures.

SINGAPORE--While the rest of the communications world is abuzz over wireless technologies such as WiFi and WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access), China-headquartered Comba Telecom Systems is touting digital microwave networks as an alternative to wired communications.

At the launch of its new microwave product here, Comba officials said that digital microwave technology can be used to meet backhaul requirements of mobile operators, connecting private enterprise networks as well as mobile cell sites to fixed line telephone networks. Backhaul refers to the telco's backend infrastructure where calls are routed through a network.

Through digital microwave systems (DMS), microwaves can be used to transmit and receive digital voice, data or video information between two location points, up to 60km apart, in a telecommunications network.

A typical microwave radio consists of three components: an indoor unit (IDU) used for interfacing with the customer's equipment, an outdoor unit for converting the carrier's signal from the IDU to a microwave signal, and an antenna to transmit and receive the signal. Two radios are required to establish a microwave communications link, commonly referred to as a microwave hop.

In an enterprise setting, for instance, a bank could connect all its branch offices wirelessly through a private data network using DMS, said Peter J. Carnes, director of global products at Comba's microwave division.

Used as an alternative to wired networks, DMS are applicable in cases where it is more costly to overlay physical fiber cables. Delivering data transfer speeds of up to 155Mbps, the performance of DMS is comparable to that of wired networks, Carnes said.

DMS operate at the 24GHz microwave band, and require line of sight. That means signals could get obstructed by physical structures, he added.

In comparison, wireless LAN (local area network) protocols such as Bluetooth, WiMax, and the IEEE 802.11g and b specifications, operate within frequency bands that do not require line of sight. Bluetooth and 802.11g/b operate in the 2.4GHz band, while WiMax is based on the IEEE 802.16 specification which has been allocated frequencies 2 to 11GHz.

Carnes however, noted that Comba is betting on technologies that operate on the 24GHz microwave band, as a less costly alternative to wired networks, rather than as a replacement for other wireless technologies.

In fact, the company is counting on its microwave technology to grow Comba's international business, said its chief operating and strategy officer, Simon Yeung. Citing figures from a Visant Strategies study, he noted that the global microwave radio sales is projected to grow from US$4 billion in 2004 to US$7 billion in 2009.

Last year, international sales outside of Comba's domestic market in China contributed about 3 percent of its total revenues of about HK$1 billion (US$129 million). The company is targeting to double the percentage by the end of this year, said Yeung.

Founded in 1997, the 3,000-staff company is publicly listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and has more than 30 offices across China. It also has offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Sweden and the United States. Its customers include China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, Huawei, SingTel and ZTE.