Core Blimey! Affirmed Eyes 5G Services Evolution Next

Virtualization startup Affirmed is getting ready to show off its take on 5G core network software, which will involve separating user control functions from a centralized control plane.

"We have an architecture available for 5G," Angela Whiteford, VP of marketing and product management at Affirmed Networks Inc. , told Light Reading recently. The company is expecting to start showing it off later this year.

So what is different about the core -- the part of the network that sets up services for users connected to the radio access (RAN) piece -- as we move to 5G in 2018 and beyond? Basically, the user piece needs to be as close to subsribers as possible, while the service piece can be centralized.

"From a 5G core standpoint, you need to have a decomposed service and user plane," Whiteford says. It should be noted that there are already a lot of ways of talking about this separation of the two core elements. As well as decomposed, people are saying decoupled, disaggregated and more.

Want to know more about 5G? Check out our new 5G site here on Light Reading.

These concepts -- and similar ideas -- have been around for a couple of years now. They are starting to come more into focus, however, as work gets underway on the radio access side of 5G. (See Brocade: 5G Is More Than Just an Air Interface and Ericsson's Network Slicing: It's Far Out, Man.)

In fact, the concept already has its own acronym, CUPS, which stands for control and user plane separation.

5G is the next generation of cellular technology, which will offer data downloads 10s or 100s of times faster than 4G, depending on who you believe. To support the extremely low-latency network and new applications that will arise from that, the core network needs to change too. Affirmed is now betting it can be part of that change too. (See The Secret of the 5G Bandwagon: SDN Is the Engine.)

The startup has already managed to tap into the much-hyped Internet of Things (IoT) market with its existing virtual Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) offering. The reason for this is two-fold: IoT applications fit with a virtualized network like a hand in glove, as the networks are expected to scale to support lots of machine-to-machine (M2M) devices communicating on the network. As a bonus, the carrier gets to test out IoT services and virtualized software without necessarily affecting its bread and butter wireless data services. (See NFV Made IoT Profitable for STC, Says Affirmed.)

Affirmed already has operators like Vodafone using its existing software for IoT applications. Marketing VP Whiteford says that it intends to build further on that momentum and is also working on a dedicated IoT architecture. (See Affirmed Gets on the Virtual Road With Vodafone and Affirmed Claims Mobile NFV Customers, Trials.)

The company currently has 37 customers. Affirmed is "flitting around 40 to 45 trials at the moment," Whiteford explains.

Virtualization is also helping to speed up the test process, even for younger companies like Affirmed. Vendors could typically expect operators to test out software and hardware in their networks for 12 to 18 months -- or more! -- before deployment, if it ever reached that stage.

"The trials are moving a lot faster," says Whiteford. "Now, you'll see trials in Q1 and commerical deployment in Q4."

This is good news for Affirmed, as there is less of a cash burn for the company, which has raised over $100 million in venture capital, before it starts to derive revenue from its software. (See CEO Chat With Hassan Ahmed, Affirmed Networks.)

"We don't compete against other startups," Whiteford notes. "In every trial we're going into we're competing against the incumbents." That would likely be established telco players like Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), although Whiteford didn't specifically name them.

Although, she admits, that it doesn't hurt that Affirmed can publicly point to carrier customers such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD). There was even talk of the company looking forward to an IPO sometime in the future. (See Could Market Volatility Hurt Tech IPOs?)

Over the last year, however, Affirmed has been building out its telco offerings with a WiFi gateway, virtualized probes and its ASAP Service Automation Platform. It has also inked a vEPC partnership with (See Affirmed Intros Virtualized Wi-Fi Gateway, Affirmed Launches Service Automation Platform and Juniper & Affirmed Target Virtual Core .)

The company has also been short-listed for two Light Reading Leading Lights awards this year: Company of the Year (Private) and Best New Product (Telecom). We'll find out soon enough which companies will be winners at Leading Lights. The awards are held at our Big Communications Event on May 24 in Austin, Texas. (See Leading Lights 2015: The Finalists.)

Beyond that, however, Affirmed is now hoping to be in the 5G core world as it starts to evolve to service the next generation of wireless networks.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

DanJones 5/11/2016 | 10:27:22 AM
5G core rival? I see Ericsson as the biggest rival in this particular niche.
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