Telecommunications and radio networks have grown at incredible speed. Vecta Labs provide the industry with accurate measuring performance and systems.
Data consumption has gone crazy, not least thanks to social media. That means operators constantly have to upgrade and expand, introduce new tech, and all at colossal speed. When any industry works at firefighting speed, quality of delivery can suffer, be it in planning, design, or execution. This is where Vecta Labs comes in, achieving accurate measuring performance for improvements in delivery, profitability, safety, and even the environmental impact.
I spoke to co-founder Michael Symes who describes founding Vecta as the culmination of the work he has been doing throughout his life.
The culmination of a lifetime’s work
I came to understand a little what Michael means by that. Firstly, it is directly through the work he has done in the past.
While Michael was born in Zambia (Northern Rhodesia), he began his career as an Air Traffic Engineer with the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK, and then assumed the role of Applications Engineer with a RF electronics company based in California.
Michael moved to Australia in 1988, joining a spin-out from the University of Queensland, focussed on RF and microwave development and innovation. The company successfully floated on the Australian stock market, and he muses that in this era, his USA experience delivered many-fold in terms of his skills and abilities.
Michael completed a Masters Degree in Engineering and Technology Management from the University of Queensland.
In those early years in Australia, he met a young man named Greg Delforce. With Greg, in 1995 he established Filtronic Australia as a subsidiary of the UK company Filtronic plc, which focused on emerging mobile technologies. Filtronic Australia become a dominant filter and amplifier designer and manufacturer in the 2G (GSM) and 3G (WCDMA) markets.
Michael and Greg then acquired the global intellectual property, Australian contracts, and local staff in 2005, forming Triasx Pty Ltd to both develop and commercialize the emerging tech.
Among their achievements was to innovate the world’s first instrument for measuring performance of a type of radio interference at mobile base station sites. Being ahead of its time, Michael explained that it was a novel and disruptive tech. In the next couple of years, they managed to sell less than 20 units, two of which went outside of Australia. Thereafter and with intense time and effort in the USA, sales grew to hundreds of units. On the back of this novel, disruptive technology, Triasx was sold in 2008 to Smiths Group PLC, a 150-year-old British company. In the five further years, cumulative global sales of the instrument totalled in excess of $80m.
Michael’s secondment to the USA lasted until 2012, with the successful merging of four Smith’s-owned business units into a entirely new ‘Kaleus’ brand.
Upon returning to Australia, he left the Triasx/ Kaleus business, with nothing planned other than retirement. Michael’s wife (Jacky) knew this would never be easy for him, or her, so she took him on a surprise Rhine cruise to detox him from phones and computers. Michael says he quickly found a peaceful environment to reflect and consider new ideas. He knew that he didn’t want to return to manufacturing, but he wanted to a continue the path towards new ideas, innovation and creativity in a test services market. Michael’s view was that test and measurement would become increasingly necessary as 4G emerges and then evolves in 5G and beyond.
The Birth of Vecta Labs
Vecta evolved from 2014 onwards, as a test and measurement business, initially with Michael and co-founder, John Bonello. John comes from an electronics, tech, and comms background via the Australian Navy, where he specialized in missile guidance and measuring performance. Michael had known John for many years as John had worked for a parallel company to Triasx, designing and manufacturing innovative antennas for mobile comms networks.
The establishment of Vecta Labs was achieved through a culmination of relationships enduring for more than twenty years, between five people (John Bonello, Dr Bevan Jones, Danny Schwotzer Greg Delforce and Michael Symes). All had important founding roles in what was to become a world-first global testing and measurement business.
Vecta Labs LLC in the US would follow three years later.
Measuring performance and network quality
Vecta Labs, operating as Vecta Pty Ltd, is based in New South Wales and Queensland, Australia.
They offer ways of testing components before installation and field testing that can be used even in the most remote site to ensure everything works before commissioning. They also go into existing sites and seek out faults to improve performance. These might have arisen from problems with components, poor installation, or lack of training in the workforce.
Measuring performance is vital in everything they do; measuring performance of systems and equipment to establish if results are being achieved before they start work, during, and after. They also help instill methods of procedure to ensure their clients meet legal and industry standards.
The value of measuring performance and systems comes in many ways. One example is found in their work for TPG Vodafone in Australia, which has meant cutting construction time at the top of towers because everything is built and tested on the ground. As opposed to weeks of people working at tower-top height, this is reduced to a couple of days.
The environment benefits. Everything is sent to sites in colossal quantities of waste packing materials. Vecta re-cycles those tonnes of cardboard. They save considerable amounts in costs for the operators. Testing is always undertakern on the ground, in controlled laboratories to ensure performance and other quality factors are right, first time, for installations.
The Challenge with Disruptive Tech
As was the case with Triasx, it takes a long time to convince people of the value of disruptive tech. It has been the same journey with Vecta.
While the internet has spurred growth of technology beyond anyone’s possible comprehension, even now, everyone is concentrating on building new. Unfortunately, budgets are rarely allocated for testing. New tech is delivered, and the argument is always that the manufacturers have already tested it. But Vecta is independent and trusted, a great assurance for proper measuring performance and systems.
Development of 1-6G
One way of understanding the speed and degrees of the evolution of tech and its impact is to look at what each era of tech could do. 1 and 2G were giant steps, commencing with basic mobile analogue telephony and then 1st generation digital systems that offered global roaming, quality improvements and short text messages. The conventional ‘pager’ then became immediately obsolete. The Blackberry device entered the industry in the latter part of 2G, being a significant jump from previous devices that had little more than phone functionality.
With 3G, more effective internet surfing and greater capacity was achieved through higher bandwidth. But then, by 2007, we had the iPhone, and everyone fell in love with data. 3G became a game-changer with early phases of e-learning, remote healthcare and much more.
By 4G, business was being wholly disrupted with the new tech. eBay, Amazon and Uber were just a few of the businesses that became jet-propelled. One example is Uber and the long-standing taxi industry. Prior to 4G, the taxi service had an unchallengeable core competitive advantage, namely their government issued radio licence, to connect the passenger and driver. But, the new tech connected the passenger and driver using a hand held device (phone), with no requirement for a control centre in the communication path.
No one can foresee the full effects of 5G yet. The radio landscape has changed dramatically, especially with the advent of MIMO radios and antennas. Simply, these allow radio systems to send multiple transmissions simultaneously, to different devices.
5G is expected to offer a complete alternative to fixed-line broadband, to significantly improve spectral efficiency (user per measure of frequency bandwidth), to turbo charge IOT accessibility and complexity and possibly, enable more autonomous vehicle functionality. All of these and other factors will serve as massive enablers for new services and products and entrepreneurial businesses that presently we have not heard of.
There are still problems. One high-frequency band has now been put on hold because of concerns about aircraft interference in the US. We still don’t know how other extended bands will fully affect us. But big tech is there to make money, and they will continue to develop at this massive rate as long as the consumer continues to demand newer, better, faster.
Michael sees massive potential for Vecta’s future and loves the innovation that change enables. Vecta has developed transportable core competencies for measuring performance that can shift sideways to be used in adjacent industries and markets, entirely disconnected from mobile communications networks. We know little about these future applications and opportunities Michal says, although we feel certain that advanced test and measurement, probably utilising artificial intelligence and deep learning will be at the core of our business long into the future.
Michael was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year for the Northern Australian Region in 2008 by Ernst and Young. He was also awarded an Australian Centenary Medal for achievements in business, in 2001. But far from slowing down, he loves what he is doing now, working with a tight-knit team to create innovation and commercialise novelty. The proven nature of disruptive technologies, such as Vecta’s for measuring performance, to change and disrupt in the future fascinates and motivates him.
Michael’s excitement to be a part of this fast-developing world is infectious. To give it context, he explains that the internet has been around for approximately 10,000 days, around a third of a lifetime, yet no one can imagine the world without it.
Equally, the iPhone has been around even less at about 5,300 days, yet, Apple as a brand is now so pervasive in our global population. How can that change not be exciting?
You might also enjoy this story of another hugely successful Australian entrepreneur, Andrew Barnes of the e-learning platform Go1