Stoke Stokes 'Net Neutrality' Flames
If broadband network operators begin charging quality of service (QOS) fees in exchange for tranporting the bandwidth-hungry services of other companies, one of Silicon Valley's new communications startups, Stoke Inc. , believes it has the just the toolset to help them do it. (See Stoke Uncloaks.)
“It seems intuitive to me that the people who own the pipes should be able to extract some value from the people who want to use them in bandwidth-intensive ways,” says Stoke marketing VP Keith Higgins. (See LR Poll: Net 'Squatters' Should Pay.)
The issue has become increasingly top of mind for carriers as more and bigger IP-based services are running over carrier broadband networks. Some of these services, like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) video and Vonage Holdings Corp. (NYSE: VG) voice, compete directly with services being pushed by the carriers themselves. (See Cerf's Up for Neutrality Debate.)
Rhetoric on the network neutrality issue has kicked up a notch lately. But the debate has taken place mostly within a regulatory framework. Stoke wants to take it to the business level, and it's now talking to carriers about a technical approach to managing -- and monetizing -- the increasingly crowded broadband pipes. (See Net Neutrality Goes to Washington.)
“We’ve been having a lot of discussions about what in the IMS architecture is responsible for potential enforcement of different QOS policies based on third parties’ willingness to pay for bandwidth and QOS,” Higgins says.
Stoke’s product, which it calls an “IP session management platform,” is primarily focused on managing the handoff of services from one type of network to end devices on another. For example, Stoke’s software works at the gateway where video from a wireline network makes the jump to a wireless network for delivery on a cell phone. (See UN Insider: Convergence.)
The Stoke platform performs many, but not all, of the functions performed by the call session control function (CSCF) element in IMS networks. The platform admits users into the network, authorizes and authenticates them, applies the right level of QOS and security, and essentially puts users in touch with the applications they want to use. (See Next-Gen IP: A Services Opportunity.)
But Stoke VP of product strategy Sudhakar Ramakrishna tells Light Reading that a proper IP session management platform must possess a healthy amount of traffic shaping and diagnostic capability, too. Those capabilities might help carriers set up tiers of broadband service for sale to third-party content providers.
“We have the ability to provide the service provider a number of metrics like usage patterns; types of calls they are placing, including voice, video, data-type calls; how many packets were transmitted; what were the usage patterns in terms of day, user behavior -- all at the pipe level,” Ramakrishna says.
“We can classify packets 64 different ways to deliver the finer SLA possibilities. We don’t define the SLA possibilities but we provide them [carriers] the tools." (See Shaw Picks Ellacoya.)
Stoke’s Higgins says his company remains neutral on the network neutrality debate and doesn’t look at it as a market opportunity per se. But Stoke seems eager to talk about the issue, and it is willing to educate carriers on how its platform can be used to their advantage.
“As more media and more bandwidth applications begin to be delivered over broadband, I think there’s going to be more and more of a reaction by the pipe providers to figure out how to get value for that,” Higgins says. (See QOS Fees Could Change Everything .)
Stoke came out of stealth mode in November, and has not released formal details on its progress. The company says it’s now working on partnership arrangements with IMS contractors, and is in trials at several large carriers.
Unstrung reported last September that Stoke’s technology has been deployed in the networks of Japanese giant NTT Group (NYSE: NTT), but Stoke isn't naming names.
“We are in some applications in Asia, which are really targeted at securely delivering IPV4 services across IPV6 networks, at line rate with encryption and at massive scale,” Higgins says.
The Unstrung account points out that NTT has been progressive in building out various wireline and wireless networks, so deploying a convergence facilitator like Stoke might make sense.
At this point, Stoke is known more for the pedigrees of the people involved in the company than for its products. Founder and CEO Randall Kruep is known for his work in the carrier business of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), leading sales at Redback Networks Inc. , and as CEO of routing upstart Procket Networks Inc. Stoke VP of engineering Peter Wexler was one of the first employees at Juniper, where he led engineering.
Stoke also has some high-profile VC backers in Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital . The startup has collected $30 million in venture funding so far. (See Stoke Uncloaks.)
Stoke is based in Mountain View, Calif., and employs just under 100 people, most of them engineers.
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading