Airspan bolsters fixed wireless portfolio and US presence with Mimosa buy

Small cell vendor Airspan Networks, most famous as the maker of Sprint’s Magic Box 4G cell, has acquired fixed wireless equipment provider Mimosa Networks.

The deal evokes some memories of the heyday of broadband wireless and WiMAX over a decade ago – Airspan emerged to prominence in that era, and Mimosa’s model, which offers FWA in unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum, is a continuation of the same ideas.

Airspan said it wanted the company to strengthen its expertise in 5G network infrastructure. Though Mimosa’s core commercial technology has been based on 802.11 standards (souped-up WiFi) it has been considering moves into 3GPP and 5G approaches for the future.

The deal will also enhance Airspan’s north American presence with an engineering center in Silicon Valley. Airspan’s headquarters are in Boca Raton, Florida, but the bulk of its engineering teams are in the UK or Israel.

While Airspan has a wide range of clients, its biggest deals have been with MNOs such as Sprint, Reliance Jio and its investor Softbank of Japan. Mimosa has been more focused on the WISP market, positioning its products as superior to DSL for rural or suburban areas where fiber is uneconomic, and also as urban products for WISPs providing low cost or multi-dwelling unit services. Airspan will look to use Mimosa’s channels for certain products, especially those which will appeal to vertical industry and private LTE network markets, such as forthcoming small cells for the USA’s CBRS shared spectrum, which could target cable or industrial operators.

Mimosa’s point-to-point technology will also extend Airspan’s range of options for backhaul in dense 4G and 5G networks.

“This important step in Airspan’s growth emphasizes critical new solutions in mobile and broadband and the addition of the Santa Clara team strengthens our capabilities in the disruptive massively scalable densification techniques that are required by the 4G/5G telecom expenditure cycle currently underway. Mimosa brings important intellectual property to the table and accelerates Airpsan’s path to delivering 5G features such as Massive MIMO to the industry,” said Airspan CEO Eric Stonestrom in a statement.

One of Mimosa’s flagship customers is US regional operator C-Spire, which is using the 120Mbps technology in sub-6 GHz spectrum, and marketing it as a ‘5G’ offering to rival Verizon’s FWA launch in millimeter wave bands, which uses a pre-standard version of 5G New Radio.

Mimosa has been seeking to dampen the hype about mmWave spectrum as a near term solution for mainstream FWA services. In 2017, it branded its own products – MicroPoP for urban scenarios and GigaPoP for rural – as the “first commercially viable 5G fixed wireless internet architecture”.

Mimosa was founded six years ago and initially worked in the 5 GHz unlicensed band. This is where Mimosa diverges from Verizon, because it is not convinced about the mmWave bands, as yet at least. It says it has experimented in 60 GHz, 70 GHz and 24 GHz in various environments, but believes the limited ability to penetrate obstacles or cope with moving vehicles still tie the carriers’ hands in these high frequencies.

Chief product officer Jaime Fink remained focused on sub-6 GHz bands (including extending into licensed), and Mimosa’s chief innovation has been its proprietary Spectrum Reuse Synchronization (SRS) technology, which aims to make the optimum use of spectrum, even in bands with less capacity than mmWave.

The technology is spectrum neutral but has the biggest commercial and performance impact in lower frequencies, with 3.5 GHz CBRS being a target.

“With a severe shortage of lower frequency spectrum, Mimosa’s real innovation is in developing new technologies to reuse that critical spectrum geographically to reduce the amount of spectrum required to scale a gigabit speed network,” Fink said. “The wireless last mile is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ scenario. We must take advantage of fiber where it’s available, use millimeter wave frequencies for reliable short range backhaul, and most importantly, promote spectrum sharing and reuse techniques in the lower frequencies that are needed to reach people’s homes.”

Commenting on the Verizon trials earlier this year, Fink said: “Verizon’s 5G fixed customer trials will deliver connectivity in the 28GHz, mmWave frequency bands, however, the viability of these bands should be scrutinised for both mobile and fixed applications. Delivering mmWave broadband connectivity in non-line-of-sight (NLOS) environments, such as suburban and urban areas, is extremely problematic over the last quarter mile. This is because signals can be affected by environmental factors such as foliage and solid constructions, typical in suburban areas, where almost 80% of the US citizens reside. Rather than using the challenging, unproven mmWave channels for 5G, the industry should use the sub-6GHz spectrum bands, which have incredible propagation characteristics through foliage and construction materials.”