They say nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. But based on its history of stubborn survival, it feels as though Australian tech stalwart NetComm Wireless should be added to that list too.
For 30 years, the ASX-listed communications gear provider has endured in a volatile, unforgiving industry. While other local companies have sunk into oblivion, NetComm has stayed on the crest of new technologies and remains confidently afloat in a sea of cheaper foreign alternatives.
It’s a real “Aussie battler” success story – and as a recent spate of industry awards can attest – there’s still plenty of fight left in the old dog yet. NetComm Wireless CEO David Stewart, at the helm since 1997, puts the survival of the company down to hard work, a highly adaptable business model and no small amount of luck.
“I guess it’s no secret that we’ve been around for a while,” joked Stewart. “Since the beginning, our focus has been to deliver devices that hang on the edge of the networks; be it dial-up modems, fixed wireless broadband, ADSL and so on. So we’ve never been tied to a particular technology. I think that’s why we’ve been able to survive while many others haven’t.”
Since introducing the first dialup modem to the Australian market in the ’80s, NetComm has sought to pursue technologies in transition. Take for instance the seismic shift in the wireless market following the arrival of Telstra’s Next G Network in 2007 – a deal that has since paid dividends for NetComm both in Australia and overseas.
“Our success with Telstra in providing a fixed wireless terminal device running on the Next G network took us to a lot of overseas places,” Stewart said. “A lot of carriers internationally closely watch what Telstra does and we were quickly adopted by companies like Teles and Rogers in Canada, Etisalat and Mobily in the Middle East and Cell C in South Africa. So we’ve spread geographically simply by having the right product at the right time.”
This year the company added the “Wireless” to its name. As you’d expect from a local broadband technology provider, NetComm Wireless has skin in the game with the construction of the NBN.
“We are working as a partner with Ericsson, which has the contract with NBN Co to rollout the wireless footprint which covers all the rural markets that can’t connect to fibre. So we’re building the equipment which goes on the outside of every premise,” Stewart explains.
In all, the wireless footprint is expected to encompass around 500,000 premises across Australia, with NetComm Wireless providing the required hardware to those who “opt in”.
“That’s one area of business from the NBN which is quite big for us; it’s been very, very, very good.”
As well, NetComm Wireless is contracted to several ISPs to provide the wireless routers that connect to the NBN’s optical network terminal [ONT] which will be installed in every home.
“These devices will plug straight into the ONT and will be the hub that replaces your ADSL modem,” Stewart said. “We’re already selling those to some of the internet service providers who then roll them out into houses. Eventually, the 8 or 9 million ADSL routers out in the market today will all be replaced by our device or one from our competitors.”
Providing the national broadband network goes ahead as planned, NetComm Wireless will have plenty to keep itself busy with over the next 7 to 8 years. But it’s already looking at future opportunities beyond the initial rollout.
“When the NBN does get out there to everybody, it’ll no longer just be about having a data connection,” Stewart said. “There’s going to be multiple points of presence within a household that they need to stream video and data to without having hardwired connections.
“We see that the connected home of the future will not only have one router where the ONT is, but you’ll probably have a combination of power line wi-fi devices to distribute wi-fi through the house or you’ll have slave routers which could be located where your TV is and connect [all your home entertainment devices] back to your main router. So we anticipate a lot of business growth in what we call ‘the connected home’.”
Meanwhile, Stewart said NetComm Wireless would continue to innovate and try to give “something different” to its customers.
“The truth of it is, operating a company out of Australia has a much higher cost than some of the Asian companies have, so we would never win a price war in moving low-features, high volume products.
“What we have to do is innovate – our products need to be a bit smarter or have more features or be customised for particular clients who want them to work in particular ways. So it’s all about trying to be different and that’s really our sales advantage which keeps us different from a mass manufacturer.”