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Innovation

Plumber´s lament

I have an admission: I´m a bit of a geek. In particular, a wireless geek, and in particular particular, the analogue hardware bits.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

I have an admission: I´m a bit of a geek. In particular, a wireless geek, and in particular particular, the analogue hardware bits.

Which is why you´ll often find me at MWC on the stands of people who make the plumbing for mobile networks - masts, cables, antennas, amplifiers and so on. I know my Heliax from my half-wave dipoles, and once the stand´s resident engineer and I have exchanged the secret handshake of the truly radioactive, it´s amazing how the conversation flows.

And they are not happy. In the words of one microwave antenna company sales executive, "sales have fallen off the edge of a cliff" for 3.5 GHz base station bits, with other bands not looking much better. I know his company of old - indeed, have bought some of its products in a previous existence - and I´ve no reason to doubt that they´re just as competitive and technologically advanced as always. That´s not the problem.

Once you get past all the up-tempo bravado from the network operators and service providers, you realise that there are remarkably few major network build-outs actually going on. Quite the opposite, if you think about T-Mobile and 3´s 3G network consolidation.

This is worrying, given that antennas are ordered very early in the process of making a network, and that well before then you´ll be talking to the antenna companies about what you need, how much it will cost and other aspects of planning what is a very complex system. Like plumbers, the people who make the boring bits of the network are the best bellwethers of what´s actually happening next - and from the look of things, that might turn out to be not much.

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