Scott Fox, former chairman of the board of the GSM Association, recently joined the board of directors of BelAir Networks, an aggressive young startup launched in 2003 producing scalable wide-area wireless mesh solutions in the hot, but often contentious, metro market.
Fox is currently the chairman and CEO of Global View Partners Inc., a privately held investment, M&A and strategic consulting company for the wireless industry. He previously held executive positions with Wireless Facilities Inc., a global company specializing in telecommunications outsourcing; Bell South, where he was chief technology officer and vice president of strategy; and MCI, where he was vice president of wireless engineering.
Recently he did an interview with Carol Ellison, eWEEK.coms Mobile & Wireless editor, regarding his role at BelAir, the challenges ahead for metro-scale deployments and the recent controversy over the deployment of municipal Wi-Fi projects.
What challenges and priorities do you have in your new role at BelAir?
BelAirs proprieties really are scaling the business. They have some world-class products. Theyre scaling the team substantially. A wide adaptation of their wireless multiservice architecture, which was announced just a month ago at CTIA, really extends the product beyond the metro Wi-Fi area into multiservices, providing Wi-Fi, WiMax and eventually GSM, CDMA and third-generation types of wireless access from a common platform. We see wireless rapidly becoming key technologies for both carriers and enterprises.
As you know from my background, my focus has been predominantly on the carrier space. We see that the mesh architecture needs to support high-capacity voice and data. Its really a great architecture for urban systems where high-rise buildings present big obstacles for traditional systems, both wired and wireless.
How does your experience enable you to address this market?
I spent 20 years on the wireless carrier side of the business and quite a few more years on the investor side and the consulting side, founding and starting new companies. At Bell South my role was chief strategy and chief technology officer. I spent substantial time, especially in the early part of that experience bringing wireless to North America and rolling out new technologies with particular focus on building and operating carrier-grade networks.
We see that municipalities and the carrier customers we have require the products and the attendant services associated with the design, deployment and support to really be carrier-grade. So I bring quite a bit of that expertise and, at the board, can provide a pretty good overview to make sure BelAirs able to deliver on that mandate.
BelAir has deployed mesh networks in Ottawa and Springfield, Mo. Are municipal deployments emerging as a key market for BelAir or are they focusing more on wide-area enterprise, campus and commercial settings?
Were really focused across the board. We see municipal Wi-Fi and municipal access as a very promising marketing. Municipal Wi-Fi really is a hot issue being debated between the politicians and the public and press and the voters in the cities. You havent seen BelAir speak out publicly, taking one position or another, because we think there will be many situations where the municipalities will potentially own the wireless network and we have some great solutions for that.
We see many other scenarios unfolding, and this is where I have a bit more expertise. This is where the wireless carriers and other wireline carriers step up and work in conjunction with municipalities to build out and own the networks. Some of these metro-scale wireless infrastructures can support many different applications. Public Internet access is only one of those. Theres residential broadband, private city applications such as video at intersections, meter reading, office productivity, and this is one of the things that really drew me personally to BelAir. It has the ability, from a product perspective, to meet the broad needs of both.
BelAirs focus and products have really been across the board, in the hospitality space, the enterprise space, the metro space and the carrier space, depending on whose initiative it is to drive it and what the particular applications are.
BelAir has two products on the market, BelAir 100 and BelAir 200. What new technologies are in the pipeline?
We see great applicability and have built a suite of products, around backhaul. In the carrier business and, in particular, the wireless carrier business, the backhaul of cell sites back to the switching locations is really the largest operational cost and generally the highest single point of failure. BelAir has particularly focused on leveraging the mesh architecture and product evolution to meet that need. Youll see quite a bit from BelAir focused on what we call a backhaul product.
It really is optimal for mesh architecture. There are multiple paths so the capacity is high. The redundancy is high. If theres a failure in the network theres automatic rerouting. This is very, very exciting, and thats one big area where youll see a lot in the coming months. Again, its about performance of the networks, its about speed of deployment, and its about operating expense and keeping that operating expense very low.
Theres also an announcement we made at CTIA focused on unified architecture for various air interfaces. WiMax is coming soon, both for access and the 802.16d for backhaul, and we have very specific plans to introduce multiservices access, such as GSM, CDMA and even third-generation. We see the products becoming very flexible and creating a new architecture, a new economic model for the industry.
It seems many vendors, like BelAir, have tried to avoid the political battles over municipal wireless and maintain harmonious working relationships between carriers and municipalities. Do you see happy middle grounds being worked out as this political battle continues?
Yes. I actually do. We work closely to provide product solutions, technology solutions and economic solutions so that that middle ground can be met. At the highest level—and Im new to the muni market but, as I see it and the way I think, broadly, BelAir sees it—the city does not have to own the network. They can if it makes sense for them to own it, or they can do so in conjunction with another party. And thats personally what I see as a great solution, where the municipality doesnt necessarily have to raise the bonds and have its citizens pay for it.
This is not just about mobile Internet or municipal Internet access. There are so many different types of services that can ride over this common network. We touched on a lot of these earlier. The BelAir products allow very low latency, very high capacity and these are very fundamental attributes to be able to support voice over IP, voice over Wi-Fi, video, streaming video, surveillance … so we do see a common ground where the service provider works with the municipality as the anchor tenant and provides those public services while being able to sell additional services that would meet the broad needs of both of the targeted areas.
The wireless carriers will buy and build networks. Municipalities will raise bonds and build them, but I see a better solution being a mix of the two and a broader collaboration between the municipalities and the service provider so that a common set of infrastructures can be leveraged for both. Thus the operating costs can be much better and the municipalities can get out of that relationship what they need to provide appropriate services at appropriate costs to their local citizens.
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