India-based STL purchased U.K-based Clearcomm Group for about $21.5 million to advance its fiber ambitions, especially its fiber ambitions in Britain.
Clearcomm has about 40 employees. In 2009, it started as a fiber-optic network installation company, but over the years it grew into what it calls a “network integration company.”
STL Group CEO Anand Agarwal said “network integration” refers to Clearcomm’s delivery model for deploying fiber. “Fiber deployment is an extremely fragmented model,” said Agarwal. “There are a lot of inefficiencies in the ecosystem. It requires a lot of work in the field and requires a lot of skilled labor in the field.”
He said traditionally one type of company would manufacture the fiber and components, and another type of company would deploy the fiber infrastructure. “There aren’t too many companies that produce fiber and design and deploy services,” said Agarwal. “Companies buy fiber and then send it to a distribution channel.” But with Clearcomm’s expertise, STL can plan the fiber network while also manufacturing the fiber cables. “You can plan-in the right lengths and the right kinds of connections, reducing the process steps that used to happen in the field,” he said.
Agarwal said STL, along with Clearcomm, can provide “full visibility of the network” to reduce the amount of time and skills required in the field. The goal is to deploy fiber in a plug-and-play manner as much as possible and to avoid splicing, which requires a more specialized workforce in the field.
STL and BT’s Openreach
Most of Clearcomm’s work is being done in the U.K., which is a focus market for STL. “We’ve been working with BT and Openreach since 2007,” said Agarwal. Openreach is BT’s fixed-line subsidiary.
The U.K. government has an initiative called “Project Gigabit,” which will spend about $6.94 billion to deliver fiber broadband to rural areas. BT’s Openreach is a big participant in Project Gigabit.
Openreach has currently connected about 4.5 million homes with fiber and believes it can pass 4 million homes with fiber per year. Its goal is to build fiber to 25 million homes by 2026.
STL and open RAN
STL, which has annual revenues of about $650 million, is also putting a new focus on open radio access networks (RAN).
Recently, Chris Rice, a well-known former AT&T executive, joined STL to lead the company’s nascent Access Solutions business. He’s focusing on both fixed and wireless access technologies, including involvement in the open radio access network (RAN) sea change.
STL is jumping on the open RAN trend to compete against RAN upstarts such as Mavenir, Altiostar and Airspan. Rice said STL is making open RAN radios. “We’re building radio units themselves for different bands,” he said.