Established as a consultancy specialising in antenna design in 1990, Poynting has evolved into a multinational company enjoying sales of its products across the globe. Founded by Dr. Andre Fourie, who listed the company on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), it was later spun out of the listed entity into the privately owned company Poynting Antennas, as it was before it was listed, leaving the shell of the listed company to continue operating as the newly named, JSE-listed Alaris Antennas, which focuses on the development and production of defence-related products.
Poynting has always had a strong focus on engineering – Dr. Fourie was a professor at Wits University, specialising in RF technology, and current CEO Michael Howard is himself a registered Professional Engineer with an RF background. Its success has been built primarily on the strength of its commercial premises equipment (CPE) offering, selling solutions for fixed wireless Internet access (FWIA) for the last fifteen years.
The company’s R&D team consists of highly qualified engineers, giving it the ability to manage everything from conceptual computerised modelling, to 3D prototypes and iterative performance testing. Its test facility in Midrand includes a custom-designed and manufactured anechoic chamber that allows testing from 450 MHz to 5 GHz, providing engineers with instant validation of their designs and the opportunity to optimise them.
According to Howard, Poynting has evolved its global presence to the point where its main market is now Europe, with 50% of turnover coming from there (predominantly the Nordic countries), 40% to 45% from Africa, and the rest from elsewhere in the world. For this reason, the majority of its manufacturing takes place at its own facility in Shenzhen, China, explains Howard. “This makes the most sense from a logistics point of view because the export channels between China and Europe are so much more developed than between SA and Europe, and a lot more efficient,” he says.
Recent years have seen the company make its mark internationally with innovative solutions for highly niche applications. These include a solution that supports the Norwegian Air Ambulance Foundation, by providing real-time meteorological data to assist in planning routes through highly remote areas; a system providing Wi-Fi access for passengers of a German ferry operator; and the use of its antennas for a major European tunnel project to provide digital communication over a route length of more than 57 km.
“These niche innovations come about as the result of people contacting us directly thanks to our reputation, and also through our worldwide partner network when they identify unique application requirements,” states Howard. “Internally we also spend a good deal of time think-tanking. With our strong engineering team we come up with many innovative ideas – not all of which result in a successful market solution, but that is the price of innovation and one which we are happy to pay to continue to push boundaries.”
Another differentiating factor that helps when dealing with European clients is agility, says Howard: “In a European context, our relatively small size means we can much more quickly design custom-made antennas for very particular requirements. An example of this is our recent development of the DASH-1 antenna which was designed for the requirements of a company in Norway. This development was done on a time scale of weeks to months, rather than the years that bigger suppliers might require.
“Another differentiator that we pride ourselves on is delivering on the specifications promised by our antennas in terms of real-world performance, which is not always the case with some of our competitors’ products,” he says.
Evolution into a service provider
Even network operators sometimes struggle to grasp some of the fundamentals and implications of better antennas performance, Howard says. “For example, if one uses an outdoor antenna for fixed wireless Internet access, it can improve mobile network capacity and performance by a factor of two to five times compared to the use of an internal antenna, as well as improving the reliability,” he explains.
“A side effect of this would be that, if all users in an area used an outdoor antenna instead of an indoor one, the capacity of the mobile network operator’s base station that they are connected to could improve by as much as five times. This reduction in the network resources required to service its customers means the operator could save considerably on capex and opex.”
This broader view of looking at multi-faceted solutions to problems has led to an approach that increasingly positions Poynting as a service provider. An example is the development of the MagiCube and the 21 services built round the product, a patented precast concrete enclosure to protect base station batteries against theft. After two years of pushing this solution in the African market, the company is now manufacturing between 50 and 100 of them a month.
“There is additional complexity and cost associated with implementing such a solution, besides just planting a concrete block in the ground,” Howard explains, “such as re-installing batteries and adding intruder detection. All these value-adds make it work as a solution, over and above just the product itself.” In fact, the entire solution consists of seven products, only one of which is the cube itself, with 21 services built around the enclosure to reduce complexity for the operator.
A new business has been spun out of Poynting to further develop its capabilities as a solutions provider, and Howard explains that it is increasingly viewing itself as playing the part of a mobile virtual network operator. “This business won’t just sell antennas, but will couple 4G LTE routers and SIM cards (prepaid or contract and supporting any of the local mobile operators) and will do installation and commissioning of a system at a person’s home or office.
“The main focus will be on areas where fibre does not reach, is too expensive or does not perform adequately. There is a demand for this even in areas where fibre is available but people are having to wait long periods to get it activated, whereas we can provide fixed wireless Internet access within 24 hours. This part of our business will also serve as a stepping stone into the future, with the evolution of the 5G market,” Howard concludes.