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CEO Chat With Doug Ranalli, NetNumber

Steve Saunders
2/2/2015
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G'day! And welcome to an entirely new feature on Light Reading -- our weekly "CEO-to-CEO" interview.

My name's Steve Saunders, and I'm one of the aforementioned CEOs. Each week I'll be picking one of my counterparts from around our industry to take part in a Q&A on, well, whatever I jolly well feel like talking about, really.

Choosing my first victim (ahem, "candidate") wasn't very hard. Of the 200 or so executives who I've met with since I reacquired Light Reading last year, there was one who really stood out.

Doug Ranalli is founder and chief strategy officer of NetNumber Inc. , a privately held company based in Lowell, Mass.

Doug Ranalli, founder and chief strategy officer of NetNumber: 'If the Internet teaches us anything, it teaches us that speed of innovation is the winner.'
Doug Ranalli, founder and chief strategy officer of NetNumber: "If the Internet teaches us anything, it teaches us that speed of innovation is the winner."

NetNumber's mission is to address a huge problem in the telecom industry: the bewildering and ever-increasing variety of signaling protocols in service provider networks.

Deploying, managing and integrating these protocols is one of the most expensive and complex challenges faced by network architects today. Yet, surprisingly, there has been very little discussion of it in the media.

There are two reasons for that:

  1. Signaling protocols are really frickin' complicated (see diagram below -- it took me two trips to Lowell, Mass., to get my head round NetNumber's solution).

  2. Incumbent vendors don't have anything to gain from solving the problem. In fact, they make money from supporting the complexity.

Really Frickin' Complicated!
(Source: NetNumber)
(Source: NetNumber)

As a result, conventional wisdom has it that the existence of the signaling protocol problem is just something service providers are going to have to live with -- like reality TV, or The Tea Party.

Doug and NetNumber don't agree. In fact, NetNumber's entire raison d'etre is to solve this problem. And it does so by using a product called TITAN that sits between the OSS/BSS layer and the data switching layers in telco networks, handling all of the necessary conversions between the different protocols.

Sounds familiar, right? And if you think this sounds a lot like a router, well, you are correct, sir! That's basically exactly what NetNumber has built: a multi-signaling protocol router (MSPR). And my money is on NetNumber's product succeeding for exactly the same reasons that Cisco's multi-protocol router took off in the early 90s.

So how come we aren't seeing the emergence of a whole slew of MSPR startups? Well, that goes back to the complexity issue. It has taken NetNumber's development team 15 years (that is NOT a typo) to get its product to the point where sales are taking off.

That's an extraordinarily committed vision, requiring a truly determined (possibly stubborn?) leader to execute it. Specifically, it requires a Doug Ranalli.

[Editor's note: The following interview is long. If you don't have time to read the whole thing, just take what you need, as they say at AA.]

The first three pages focus on Doug's background and business development strategy. They contain "must-read" intel for anyone thinking about launching a startup in the telecom industry (or any industry for that matter). And as a bonus, there's a really funny anecdote about the world's tallest telecom equipment rack.

Page 2: Doug's early days

Page 3: Harvard, and how to develop a business plan

Page 4: Just the fax, man

The rest of the interview focuses on the problem that NetNumber is looking to solve, and how it does so. If you're a network architect, you need to get down with this information. I promise you it's worth your time to ingest.

Page 5: The beginning of NetNumber

Page 6: Solving signaling overload

Page 7: Fat pipes and Google envy

Page 8: A long disruptive game

I hope you enjoy this new feature. Our next CEO-to-CEO interview is with Jay Samit, CEO of publicly traded video solutions vendor SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC). I'll be conducting it using Internet radio (what could possibly go wrong?) and it takes place on Wednesday, February 4 at 1:00 p.m. EST (10:00 a.m. PT). "Hear" you there, I hope!

Next page: Doug's Early Days

— Stephen Saunders, Founder and CEO, Light Reading

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JustTheFaxMaam
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JustTheFaxMaam,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/27/2017 | 4:23:27 PM
Reality Check
Let's take a good honest look at Mr. Ranalli and his past.

Fax International ("FI") --> ran dry in the early-to-mid-1990s --> assets, employees, intellectual property mysteriously bought up for pennies on the dollar by a second company, named "UNIFI Communications," run by the same Ranalli family --> ran dry in 1998 --> attempted pennies-on-dollar bankruptcy purchase by a third company, named "UCI," forcibly stopped by creditors in court, claiming "Doug has tried this before."

The Ranalli family pursued breach-of-fiduciary-duty lawsuits against their court-appointed bankruptcy trustee for FIVE YEARS following UNIFI's 1999 dissolution -- overlapping the new baby, NetNumber, by three or four of those years.  After three high-profile strikeouts, Ranalli could no longer be seen to publicly occupy the captain's chair, so he christened himself "Chief Strategy Officer" and latched onto a series of aging puppethead CEOs (notably Cisco-castoff Brad Boston, and, before Brad, booze-executive Joe Farrelly) so as to maintain some trickle of credibility + financing.  This is why "23 of the 25 original employees" stay with him;  many of them are FI/UNIFI veterans, plugged into the 20-year Ponzi scheme.

Claims of "our previous business died overnight due to regulation" and "I chased the next big thing" are specious and glib.  This guy is dirty, and, isolated merits of his technology aside, he isn't playing with an even remotely ethical or transparent agenda.
Steve Saunders
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Steve Saunders,
User Rank: Blogger
2/6/2015 | 5:20:33 PM
Re: Got his number
NASIMSON... 15 years and about a billion lines of code stand between the incumbents and the development of a competing product. I don't think they have the appetitie to develop something that actually eliminates a profitable support business for them. THey probably wish Doug would just go away instead... this is uniikely to happen. 
sarahthomas1011
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sarahthomas1011,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/4/2015 | 2:21:39 PM
Re: Got his number
But he expects them to start to try very soon. I caught up with awhile back, and his feeling was that others would start to replicate his model. Story here: http://www.lightreading.com/spit-(service-provider-it)/diameter-routing-signaling/netnumber-decrees-the-end-of-signaling-silos/d/d-id/712972

Even as operators move to all IP networks, they'll have to support legacy signaling for the foreseeable future. Doing it one place seems immensely easier.
R Clark
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R Clark,
User Rank: Blogger
2/4/2015 | 1:20:14 AM
Re: Got his number
I think Doug's point was that NetNumber has a 15-year break on its competitors and it's not really worth their while to try to catch him. 

It's interesting that despite the success of NetNumber he's not seeking an IPO. Presumably he doesn't want the hassle that goes with being a public company. 
nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/3/2015 | 11:02:37 PM
Re: Got his number
@Steve @Mitch

Love the new CEO-to-CEO series!

Given that now the tech is out there, proven and working, what prevents ZTE, NokiaNetworks and Huawei to replicate it?
Steve Saunders
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Steve Saunders,
User Rank: Blogger
2/3/2015 | 4:02:39 PM
Re: Signalling lives forever
Carol - I agree. Signaling is something I've always avoided digging into because 1. it's so complicated and 2. it always seemed like something that was an intractable problem. Then along comes Netnumber and it all seems both comprehensible and fixable and, amazingly, interesting! 
cnwedit
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cnwedit,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/3/2015 | 3:49:01 PM
Signalling lives forever
Doug's explanation of the situation with signalling is about as clear as any I've ever heard. Regardless of whether we dial phones or use phone numbers pre-programmed, network signalling persists until you shut off that network. And telecom networks are rarely shut off. So a signalling control system seems to make a lot of sense. 

 
Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
2/2/2015 | 7:53:17 PM
Got his number

"... conventional wisdom has it that the existence of the signaling protocol problem is just something service providers are going to have to live with.... "

One of my favorite sayings: People who make lots of money from solving a problem have a strong interest in preserving the problem.  

I would not have thought a magazine about decorating dorm rooms would have been profitable. How much money is there in beer lamps?

The experience of dialing phone numbers won't be universal forever. It's dying now. The phone number is something you program into your speed dial. 

"The only way you get in there, as an entrepreneur, is you have to invest beforehand so that when they encounter the problem you get to say, "I know we're still small but we actually have what you need. Ericsson doesn't, Nokia doesn't, Huawei doesn't. And I can prove it." And this worked.... " Heck of a gamble of 15 years of life -- but glad to see it paid off. 

 

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