SDN architectures

Vodafone Builds MVNO on Elephant Talk SDN

Elephant Talk has some earned some early validation for SDN and NFV and its own virtualized platform, as it announces Wednesday that it is fully managing Vodafone Spain's new mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), Lowi.

Managed SDN platform specialist Elephant Talk Communications Corp. (NYSE MKT:ETAK) has built up a platform -- ET Software DNA 2.0 -- that includes a fully virtualized evolved packet core (EPC) with NFV from Affirmed Networks Inc. and an HLR/HSS (Home Location Register/Home Subscriber Server for subscriber data management) from HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ). The combo was chosen by Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) in Spain to power its new MVNO, Lowi, which launched in December to provide low-cost, postpaid mobile data with data rollover. (See Affirmed & Elephant Talk Build a Virtual EPC .)

Elephant Talk says it installed, tested and launched the 3G service in just three months, down from the traditional year-long process an MVNO launch requires. The key is that its platform is entirely software based, including the HLR\HSSs, upgraded IP systems, GGSNs, provisioning, postpaid billing system and backup systems in two colocation data centers in Barcelona and Madrid -- all of which were installed new for Vodafone.

By managing everything except the radio access network (RAN) on software, it's able to move quickly, as well as let Lowi continue to introduce new services and billing changes at a rapid clip. Steven van der Velden, chairman and CEO of Elephant Talk, says the signaling box is the only piece of hardware left but that will soon also be totally driven by software and fully integrated into its main computing platform.

For more on virtualization, head over to the carrier SDN content channel on Light Reading.

This virtualized platform based on commercial off-the-shelf hardware is what many operators are working towards with their SDN and NFV strategies. It's also what their big vendor partners like Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. are helping them to explore. Van der Velden sees these big names as its prime competition, as well as piece players like Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX), but the company is finding its sweet spot with the smaller operators.

And, unlike most of the big guys that are in the trial stages, it already has successful deployments under its belt, with Vodafone for its wholesale business and Lowi, as well as Zain Group in the Middle East and Grupo Iusacell S.A. de C.V. in Latin America, now owned by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T). Van der Velden says it can scale up to supporting 20 million customers, which might rule out the very biggest of mobile operators, so right now it's targeting the 800 or so operators that have fewer than 20 million customers.

"We're a small company in an early phase with a few main customers, but we're building up references and going through a steep learning curve," van der Velden says. "Ultimately we believe these kind of platforms will become mainstream for future mobile operators. Legacy systems are running out of service life."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

steven van der velden 1/22/2015 | 5:16:45 PM
Re: the Elephant in the room

Sarah, thanks for your article and comments.


Beyond the time-old questions of build vs. buy, there are lots of other factors at play here.


When it comes to innovation, it can come from anywhere, but it requires focus. Right now, mobile operators are facing some of the most daunting issues of their time and in most cases, their technology is so mired in legacy investments and outdated processes that they cannot even begin to see the path forward. While many "big players" have significant R&D budgets to be sure, the issue still becomes one of focus. The big guys have a very dualistic, almost conflicting problem: in order to keep their current P&L's sound for the next 5 years, they still need to keep selling their MNO customers tons of legacy solutions. At the same time they need to start the process of preparing these same MNO customers for the future roll out of their still to be developed NFV/SDN solutions. This creates obvious problems due to a lack of focus (or priorities) and at the very least, causes a high level of confusion and hesitation at their MNO customers. Also, are they only looking at their single piece of the puzzle, will they play well with others and where should the MNO start the process of modernization?


What I think smaller, more nimble companies such as Elephant Talk and some of our key partners such as Affirmed Networks, are proving that we bring to the table a focus combined with new perspectives on how to use technology such as SDN/NFV to solve those problems. As you noted, our customers like Vodafone in Spain have a vision for the future of their businesses and we are honored to be an enabler of that future.


There is no doubt that the future for mobile communications is bright and because the multibillion dollar market is expanding so rapidly, it will be great for us and many other innovative providers.

sarahthomas1011 1/21/2015 | 10:25:32 AM
the Elephant in the room This is a really important win for Elephant Talk, who so far had just been managing wholesale customers for Vodafone. It is finding a sweet spot for itself amongst MVNOs and smaller operators, and it's moving at a much faster rate than the big guys. I wonder if that's enough to catch the interest of the tier-one operators, or are they still not looking outside of the big traditional players? SDN/NFV changes the dynamics, and speed and agility will become more important than relying on traditional suppliers.
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