Axell Wireless founder and CEO Ian Brown announces departure

Following the acquisition of Axell by Cobham Ian Brown is ready to move on to new opportunities he explains to Wireless editor James Atkinson

Axell Wireless founder and CEO Ian Brown announces departure

Ian Brown, the CEO and entrepreneur behind the formation and development of Axell Wireless, has announced that he is to depart the business at the end of October 2014.

Axell was acquired by defence and technology giant Cobham plc in May 2013 for £85m. Speaking to Wireless earlier this week he said that since then he has been helping the new owners integrate Axell into Cobham, but is now ready to move on to other things.

‘We’ve completed the immediate post acquisition targets and Cobham is now integrating Axell further into the main business. But I am not a corporate guy; it’s just not in my DNA. Instead, I like to develop and run medium-sized businesses,’ Brown explained.

‘I’ve done a few of these kind of ventures,’ he continued. ‘Axell is the latest of those, which began in January 2007 when myself and other investors took over AFL (Aerial Facilities Ltd) as it then was.’

Brown recalled that the intention was to focus on DAS and coverage solutions. In the summer of 2007, AFL merged with Avitec from Sweden, whose founder Hakan Samuelsson introduced the first wireless repeater, and the company rebranded as Axell in 2008. In 2009, Axell acquired technology and intellectual property from US cellular specialist Dekolink.

‘I’m proud of the mix of people we have working at Axell,’ said Brown. ‘We have 16 or 17 different nationalities involved and we have a pretty flat structure whereby different offices can run a particular project. We’ve done a lot of innovative things and have often been first to market with new technology.

‘We’ve pioneered DSP (digital signal processing) filtering, SDR (software defined radio) architectures and broadband high performance fibre optic systems. We introduced the first digital off air public safety system and we sell thousands of our DIGImini off air systems for small- and medium-sized offices to mobile operators,’ said Brown.

‘At the heart of our products has been our digital filtering technology, which we have patents on. It is embedded in both off air systems and classic DAS products now, which provides multiple wireless technologies in the same frequency bands at the same time and that gives clients a lot of flexibility.’

He added that Axell’s new idDAS (intelligent digital DAS) development, which allows operators to allocate capacity around locations only when and where it is needed, was ‘very exciting and should bode well for the future of the company’.

Brown attributes the company’s growth and success primarily to being attentive to customer needs, which has helped it develop the right products, but also by being agile enough to bring those products to market first.

‘We have a very strong relationship with mobile operators around the world, some 130 of them, and we bring them inside the fence during development to make sure we are developing the right products. We feel the best way to go about it is to present them with our thinking based on all the feedback from our sales and operational guys, which in turn is based on what they are hearing from customers.

‘You’ll never get 100% consensus between operators, but at least we can identify the common ground and then produce something that they will like. But fact that we can get to market so quickly is one of our key talents,’ said Brown. ‘We don’t get wrapped up in paperwork and process, as we run a flat organisation, which means we can make very fast decisions.’

Brown pointed to what he described as ‘some fantastic projects’ such as the Pentagon in Washington DC, the London 2012 Olympics, the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, the Channel Tunnel and the Sport Hub in Singapore.

‘We’ve sold our products into 150 countries – it’s been a great British success story. When we started 85% of business came from the UK, now 85% of the business is outside the UK. We won a Queens Award for export a few years ago and we still have a manufacturing facility in UK, although we do also have subcontractors around the world,’ said Brown.

Summing up, he said: ‘I think Axell has a bright future. Cobham has a lot of interesting products and technologies that are complementary to Axell’s, so there is no reason why it should not continue to flourish.’

What’s next for Brown? He isn’t ready to reveal anything yet, other than to say there are a number of interesting possibilities. ‘I’m looking at a variety of things such as combining Wi-Fi and DAS, as that is an interesting area. Self organising networks is also very interesting and there is going to be a plethora of other technology that will come out in support of 5G and other such standards, so there is plenty to get one’s teeth stuck into.

‘I think the whole world of wireless is still in the early stages of evolution. People are talking of 20 billion connected devices with the Internet of Things. It is a great industry to be in and there will be a lot of exciting innovations that will continue to push the market forward. We are already talking 5G and I’m quite sure there will be a 6G. Wireless technology is revolutionising the way people live and work, so that is why I will stay in the space,’ said Brown.

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