A UK startup called Zeetta Networks could be set for much bigger things after it was chosen to join Facebook's disruptive Telecom Infra Project (TIP), where it will potentially have access to up to £125 million ($163 million) in funding.
The Bristol-based company, whose NetOS software is designed to support the "on-demand" virtualization of networks, this week became one of several UK startups to have secured a place in TIP's UK-based Telecom Ecosystem Acceleration Center (TEAC), after pitching to European telco giants BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) and Orange (NYSE: FTE) at an event in London.
Network startups are eager to get involved with the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) because it promises access not only to potential funding but also to some of the world's biggest operators. The participating operators believe the initiative could help to reduce the costs of building networks and put pressure on their main suppliers.
Facebook launched TIP with considerable fanfare at the Mobile World Congress in 2016 and sees it as a way of bringing low-cost connectivity to underserved communities and ultimately boosting the usage of its own social networking service. (See Facebook TIPs Telcos Towards Open Source Networks.)
The Internet company is taking advantage of open source technologies and open approaches to shake up the equipment market, whose biggest players have thrived by licensing their intellectual property and tying customers into long-term contracts.
Some of the vendors now involved with TIP have expressed misgivings about the use of open source technology, regarding this as a threat to their business models, although others are trying to adapt. (See TIP Players Voice Open Source Misgivings.)
Zeetta was spun out of the University of Bristol in late 2015 and says its mission is to be the main facilitator of "network as a platform" services.
It appears to have relied heavily on open technologies. Its main NetOS software product is supposed to let operators build virtual "network slices" more easily.
This slicing technique is considered integral to the 5G business case and would allow telcos to deploy a range of highly differentiated network services over the same physical infrastructure.
Zeetta claims its technology can be used to support services such as ultra-HD video distribution and city-wide WiFi. Its most high-profile activity so far is a tie-up with "Bristol is Open," Bristol's own smart city initiative, which is using the NetOS software. (See Eurobites: ETSI Prepares for Next-Gen Future.)
Any funding from TIP or its members could make a huge difference to Zeetta as it tries to scale up its business. It has previously raised about £6 million ($7.8 million) in funding, with about £4 million ($5.2 million) of that amount coming this year alone.
Commenting on the TEAC award, Zeetta CEO Vassilis Seferidis said: "This is a major achievement for Zeetta and opens up tremendous business opportunities to work with Tier 1 telcos and Facebook to further validate our technology and our capability in tackling challenging networking problems with innovative solutions."
The other companies that were chosen to join the TEAC are: London-based Unmanned Life, which develops a drone-based technology platform; and KETS Quantum Security, another startup from Bristol that is also working on software-defined networking and virtualization technologies.
UK telco BT, whose Adastral Park research facilities will play host to TEAC, said it was now looking to "newly created small businesses" for expertise.
"We're supporting the development of technologies that have the potential to tackle some of our society's biggest challenges around connectivity, around security, and accessibility of digital services," said Howard Watson, the CEO of BT's technology, service and operations division, in a company statement.
The latest TIP news comes several weeks after France's Orange and Facebook said they would provide similar support to a small number of network startups. (See Orange, VCs Commit $113M to Network Startups as 'Black Box' Frustration Mounts.)
During a discussion with Light Reading, Orange said that Amarisoft, one of the chosen startups, could potentially become an alternative to Swedish equipment giant Ericsson in telcos' national networks. (See Startup Could Replace Ericsson, Says Orange.)
Amarisoft employs just a handful of people and says it has developed a software tool that can turn a PC into a mobile basestation.
— Iain Morris, News Editor, Light Reading