Like many companies that sell campus networking gear, Ubiquiti Networks saw a slowdown in 2Q20. Its Enterprise-related revenues grew only 4% Y/Y and were down 16% Q/Q. We reviewed the public material from its disclosures this morning, plus as we do during each of the quarters, we are making checks along the way because we assess Ubiquiti’s market share in many of its markets like Ethernet Switching, Enterprise WLAN, Consumer WLAN, routing and security.
The company experienced production delays in the quarter, primarily as a result of its main manufacturing site being located in southern China. It has established subcontract manufacturing relationships recently where parts are made in Vietnam and Taiwan. The company has been penalized with tariffs because many of its products are made in China, so it has an incentive to get out of the PRC. Its facility lease in China ends in a year, and we expect that Ubiquiti will begin using subcontract manufacturing outside of China increasingly.
Inventory and purchase obligations are at a record high. At the end of 1Q20, inventories had dropped, probably because of shutdowns in China, but inventories grew nearly 40% Q/Q in 2Q20. We believe that the company is expecting revenue growth in the future, based on its high inventory and purchase obligations.
The company attributes its growth to the expansion of distribution channels and expansion of its product line. Since the pandemic shutdowns hit, it appears that the company has not grown its distributor count appreciably. In previous quarters, it had grown its reseller and distributor counts, fueling growth. Coincident with the company’s supply chain difficulties, we have noticed that the company is having trouble getting important new products to volume. For instance, its Amplifi Alien 802.11ax product, while introduced months ago, is unavailable for purchase. We have evidence that some volume was available during 2Q20, though. We see this type of difficulty getting products to volume as related to the sequential growth challenges the company experienced. But, the company has record purchase obligations, so we think it is just a matter of time before it has 802.11ax consumer – and enterprise-class – WLAN products in the market. Our hunch is that by 2H20, the company will have 802.11ax enterprise WLAN products in the market.
Speaking of WLAN, since Ubiquiti is selling primarily 802.11ac products at a time when the market is moving towards the newer generation 802.11ax, this is effectively shrinking Ubiquiti’s addressable market as about 1/3rd of enterprise Access Point revenue is related to 802.11ax. Additionally, the company has significant exposure to smaller customers, which are being hurt more during the shutdowns than larger ones.
Ubiquiti has been a share-taker in the enterprise WLAN market for many years. But, with the short-term challenges it is experiencing (supply chain, distribution, older product portfolio, customer exposure), its share-taking ended in 2Q20. It looks like the company is taking steps to address the supply chain and product refreshes. However, its exposure to smaller customers and its challenges in expanding distribution are more difficult to fix during the pandemic.
Today, Amazon announced that it will acquire eero, a consumer mesh WiFi equipment company that as of 3Q18 had 13% revenue share. In 3Q18, the consumer mesh WiFi market measured just over $150M, which was up just over 34% Y/Y. The number one player by revenue was NETGEAR in 3Q18, followed very closely by Google, who had retained the number one spot for the 5 quarters before 3Q18. Now, with Amazon's acquisition of eero, just three players will have well over 3/4th of the consumer mesh WiFi market. What's interesting here is that two Internet titans, Google and Amazon, are attempting to disrupt the consumer networking market that up till 2015 was dominated by hardware players such as NETGEAR, Linksys, TP-Link, D-Link (consumer WiFi vendors) and adjacent players such as Technicolor, Arris, Huawei, ZTE and Nokia (Broadband Customer Premises Equipment vendors).
So, what does it mean that now both Amazon and Google are battling for primacy in the home networking market?
It is complementary to their interactive speaker business. Both Amazon and Google have introduced various hardware products for the home, but most successful have been both of their interactive speaker products, which for Amazon has been the Echo and Dot and for Google Home. These speakers are generally in an "always-on" mode, which allow them to listen to all sounds nearby, and which also means they are generally always connected to the WiFi devices in the home. By always being connected, these speakers consume much of the available WiFi bandwidth in the home, deteriorating the available spectrum for other devices. One obvious solution, which is being made available by wireless chip giant, Qualcomm, is to integrate WiFi chips with speaker chips. That's the direction that both Amazon and Google may pursue - to integrate Home with Google WiFi and Echo with eero. This will mean that multiple WiFi mesh devices will also represent multiple interactive speakers in the home, all while combating the over-use of WiFi spectrum in the home.
These Internet giants can, and probably will, attempt to overwhelm the market with low prices, subsidized by primary businesses. We already see that Google's price for a 3-pack is 37% lower than eero's comparable system. Our working theory is that Google has been selling close to no margin and that eero has been experiencing a 30's percent margin. This is probably not good news for the following companies who either do have gross margins above 30% or we assume do, like NETGEAR, TP-Link, D-Link, and others mentioned above.
Back on 5/9/17, we discussed how Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE) had announced its in-house developed enterprise-class WLAN products. A couple days ago (on 9/20/17), ALE announced further developments to its WLAN product line and now has a broadening product line of Stellar WLAN products. Initially, ALE announced a lower end Stellar product. Now, with this 9/20/17 announcement, in Stellar products have moved up-market and include the AP1220, AP1230 and AP1251. ALE continues to offer the HPE Aruba products to customers, but it is clear, in looking at the amount of space on the WLAN products page at ALE's website, that it is increasingly promoting its in-house Stellar brand - and why not?
It is encouraging to see a new set of products enter the enterprise-class WLAN market with ALE's announcement. We will be tracking ALE's progress in the coming quarters, but initial results of the Stellar product line have shown it is growing strongly as a proportion of total WLAN revenues.