Yesterday, analyst Chris DePuy joined Water Tower Research analyst John Roy in a discussion about the 60 GHz wireless market. If you want to learn more about this emerging market, please listen in to this 30 minute interview about 60 GHz.
During the interview, John asked Chris about how fast and far 60 GHz systems can go, and Chris cited some information from Facebook Terragraph's experiences with Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) deployments in Europe. Coincidentally, Chris received an email from Ubiquiti, an equipment vendor in the 60 GHz market, in which Ubiquiti cited recent 60 GHz results about a contest it is holding with users of Ubiquiti's new 60 GHz Point to Point (P2P) product. The results shared in this email (dated Jan 21, 2021) are stunning, with 60 GHz P2P ranges of up to 17.87 km and throughputs as high as 1.62 Gbps.
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's big news from the FCC is that it will open up 6 GHz to Wi-Fi and other unlicensed uses. The FCC authorizes "1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band (5.925–7.125 GHz) available for unlicensed use," and further explains that it authorizes "standard-power devices in 850 megahertz in the 6 GHz band. An automated frequency coordination system will prevent standard power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services." We see that this vote is very beneficial to Wi-Fi chip and systems companies that serve both consumer and enterprise markets. We also expect that outdoor systems that take advantage of this new spectrum may benefit wireless ISPs (WISPs) and their equipment suppliers. And, also, the FCC's statement that an automated frequency coordination (AFC) system will be used to prevent interference from existing microwave transmission systems. With that background, we have compiled a list of companies that will benefit from the FCC's vote.
WLAN Semiconductor companies Broadcom, Qualcomm, ON Semi, Celeno, and Intel. In our research of the WLAN Infrastructure semiconductor market, these are the vendors we expect to sell Wi-Fi radio chips to devices such as Access Points, Broadband Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) with WLAN, and Consumer Routers. A new class of Wi-Fi that takes advantage of 6 GHz is now called Wi-Fi 6E. Broadcom and Qualcomm have already made statements about Wi-Fi 6E in the past month or two, and others somewhat more recently. Historically, Broadcom and Qualcomm have enjoyed significant market shares of the enterprise WLAN Access Point market, while players in the consumer AP/router/CPE have included a wider list of players including Broadcom, Qualcomm, ON Semi (formerly Quantenna), Celeno, Intel, Realtek, Mediatek and others.
Enterprise WLAN companies Cisco, HPE Aruba, Commscope, Extreme Networks and Juniper. While each of these companies has launched Wi-Fi 6 products over the past couple of years that operate in 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, we expect this group of companies to release Wi-Fi 6E products that connect over 6 GHz over the next year. We expect initially that 6E enterprise products will sit at the high end of product portfolios, selling at higher prices than 5 GHz and lower products. The FCC commented in today's press release that "The notice also seeks comment on increasing the power at which low-power indoor access points may operate," which means that there is still some work to do in figuring out whether these Wi-Fi 6E devices can operate at powers levels more common in enterprises without needing to connect to an AFC. We are sure there is more to come on this topic.
Consumer WLAN Infrastructure companies NETGEAR, Commscope, Technicolor, Amazon and Google. We expect NETGEAR to be an aggressive player in Wi-Fi 6E, just as it released super high-end Wi-Fi 6 products in its Nighthawk product line. We expect Broadband CPE vendors such as Commscope (through its Arris brand), Technicolor and others to benefit as they seek to capitalize on the new spectrum, which should allow the delivery of Wi-Fi at higher speeds and to more devices in the home. We wouldn't be surprised to see consumer mesh vendors such as Amazon (through its eero acquisition) and Google to offer Wi-Fi 6E products, but these probably come a bit later than traditional router and Broadband CPE devices.
Wireless ISPs such as Etheric Networks and Common Networks (both located near the 650 area code that we used to name our company, 650 Group) will likely benefit as they will be able to offer new WISP services over the new 6 GHz spectrum. Since the spectrum is new, essentially unused and there's lots of it, we expect that these, and other WISPs in the US market, can benefit by expanding beyond the current unlicensed spectrums commonly used today, such as 60 GHz, 5 GHz, 2.4 GHz and 900 MHz spectrums. We think it might take a year or two before the WISPs can capitalize on these spectrums, but we see it as a windfall.
WISP suppliers such as Ubiquiti Networks, Cambium Networks, Airspan, and others will be likely beneficiaries. These suppliers sell to WISPs and other operators to enable "last mile" services that compete with fixed-line broadband services such as cable modem, DSL and PON. As we alluded to above, the 5 GHz spectrum is quite crowded, and thus, as 6 GHz becomes available for outdoor use, we expect that a new class of equipment will take advantage of this ample spectrum to deliver broadband to a more significant number of business and consumers. The FCC has a "goal of making broadband connectivity available to all Americans, especially those in rural and underserved areas," according to its 6 GHz press release today, and we see WISPs as one of the main constituents of serving this goal.
Mobile network operators AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. Similar to WISPs, we expect that mobile operators will eventually leverage 6 GHz to deliver Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services (and potentially mobile services) to consumers and businesses. In suburban and rural areas, we have already seen some operators, notably Verizon, deploy FWA in licensed mmWave spectrum (in 20 GHz and 40 GHz ranges) - we have seen operators pare back on plans to deliver services, though they haven't stopped deployments or anything. But, we see 6 GHz could puff some new life into FWA plans because this is a lot of new frequency and since it is lower frequency than mmWave, does not suffer as much from immovable obstacles such as tree leaves, windows and precipitation. Additionally, we see mobile services could benefit as well, as we have already seen operators such as AT&T leverage 5 GHz unlicensed spectrum in delivering mobile service on its small cells in locations such as New York City, so we would expect mobile operators to eventually take advantage of 6 GHz in a similar fashion. But, incumbent services (point to point microwave systems) are more likely to interfere with mobile operators' plans in urban areas, where paradoxically, there is more need for this extra bandwidth, so we think operators will take some time to sort this interference out.
AFC services operators such as Federated Wireless. Given that the FCC announced a specific need for AFC services in its media blitz today (see above), we point out that Federated Wireless has already announced an AFC service. Just as Federated has competition in its CBRS SAS service from players such as Commscope, we would not be surprised to see new competition in AFC services.
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.