A startup that boasts Google, Cisco, Apple, Aruba, Qualcomm and SpiderCloud heritage is testing a "mobile cloud" system with multiple operators that aims to make it easier and cheaper to add capacity and offer new services over cellular networks.
Luminate Wireless Inc., a Cupertino, Calif.-based startup that was formed in late 2013, has already garnered around $43 million in two rounds of funding, Murari Srinivasan, CEO and co-founder of Luminate, told Light Reading in an exclusive interview. Backers for the company include Sequoia Capital and New Enterprise Associates (NEA) , two investors with very strong track records.
The company has developed "Mobile Cloud Controller" software, which can run on white box hardware in a data center or at the edge of the network (or a combination of both), and its own in-house developed "services-ready" 4G edge access device. The initial proposition to mobile operators is to make it easier for them to add extra capacity and offer new digital services on their 4G networks.
While Srinivasan is careful not to use terms such as "plug-and-play," small cell, SDN or NFV, its proposition is very much about swift deployment of small devices at the very edge of the network that are managed using a software-centric controller and which deliver cloud-based applications. In that respect, it is similar in approach to Nuage Networks, the Alcatel-Lucent division that is aiming to make it easier to provision VPN services to enterprises.
"Distributed" is "a more accurate term" to describe what Luminate has developed, says Srinivasan, as the vision is to enable operators to deploy computer resources in multiple locations and "stitch them together in a software-defined manner and manage them as one entity... We are bringing 5G-like ideas into the 4G network."
On the radio access side, although it has developed its own hardware so it can offer an end-to-end system that mobile operators can test, the company wants to make it easy for network operators to integrate Luminate's technology into multivendor 4G networks and enable operators to deploy the network edge device of their choice. "We have learned a lot from the development of the enterprise WiFi market," adds the CEO.
Srinivasan mentions the enterprise WiFi networking model several times as an inspiration for the company's approach. This references the crossover point in recent years where WiFi management software started to make it much easier to deploy and manage thousands upon thousands of 802.11 access points using unlicensed spectrum. (See HP Sets Sail for Aruba and Aruba's Switch Pitch.)
One of Luminate's long-term ambitions appears to be to bring this concept to licensed cellular networks.
Srinivasan, however, also stresses that the software should be thought of as a building block for a web-scale architecture that would enable operators to use resources and capacity from multiple data centers to provision their own and third-party applications such as security (and many more) via the cloud controller's northbound interfaces. This is similar in concept to the way that Amazon Web Services allows enterprises to use its platform to add computing power and services without buying extra in-house servers.
"Vendors are typically focused on mobile operators' traditional environments," states the CEO. "But we are starting at the data center and thinking about how to run a network from there -- it's not just about the access."
The Luminate team, Srinivasan notes, is well used to building web-scale systems. Srinivasan came to the startup from Google, as did fellow co-founder and Luminate VP of Engineering Kevin Yu. Other executives come from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), SpiderCloud Wireless and Aruba Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: ARUN).
Searching on LinkedIn reveals that many more of the team members have Google roots. "There's a lot of Google DNA in the company, that's true," Srinivasan said. He adds that the Luminate team is the best that he has ever worked with.
The CEO says that Luminate now has multiple trials running with mobile operators in multiple geographies, but declined to elaborate further.
Ultimately, Srinivasan sees Luminate going to market via multiple indirect as well as direct channels. "We expect to partner with existing players... we have a very broad partnership strategy," says the CEO.
The company expects to be able to share further developments by Mobile World Congress next year.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading