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Packet core

Ex-Stoke Startup Aims to Shake Up 4G Core

A U.S.-based startup called Connectem Inc. has developed software for the simulation of 4G Evolved Packet Core (EPC) network elements that will enable operators to add data capacity quickly during peak traffic times.

Founded in February 2011 by a group of former Stoke Inc. employees, the company claims it can simulate the whole 4G packet core network and not just any one element, such as the packet gateway, serving gateway, Mobility Management Entity (MME) or Policy and Charging Rules Function (PCRF).

Not surprisingly, they're excited. "We don't lack ambition taking on the entire packet core," says Barry Hill, founder and executive VP of sales and marketing at Connectem. "This is an incredibly disruptive technology we're putting on the table."

The company's Virtual Core for Mobile (VCM) software is in trial with Australian carrier SingTel Optus Pty. Ltd. , which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Singapore's Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel) (OTC: SGTJY) and had 9.5 million mobile customers at the end of September 2012. Optus has checked out the VCM product in its lab and now it is testing the software with friendly users on its Macquarie Park campus network. (See Optus Tests Cloud-based Core Tech.)

Optus is interested in the flexible networking technology in the short term because it could be a tool for handling surges in data traffic at big events, such as sports matches or concerts. But longer term, the operator wants to evaluate whether such virtualization technology could be part of its future network strategy.

Connectem founder and CEO Nishi Kant explains that the company's software runs on IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)'s PureFlex System platform. Essentially, the packet core network elements are broken down and their functions are written into Connectem's software so that it can run on commercial hardware, thereby creating a more flexible way to build EPC networks, increase data capacity and process surges in signaling traffic.

He used Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) as an analogy to explain the VCM proposition: "What Amazon does from a digital shopping experience is very similar to what happens in a mobile data experience," Kant says. "There's an attach procedure, handover and they're moving data on your behalf."

An Internet company like Amazon has "distributed their connection management," he adds. And Connectem is aiming to adapt that kind of networking technology to meet the needs of mobile service providers.

Kant also notes that while there are elements of software-defined networking (SDN) in the VCM proposition, the startup did not want to be labeled as an "SDN company." (See SDN & the Commodity Question and Ericsson CTO: Let's Redefine SDN.)

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company, which has about 22 employees, did not reveal details about its financial arrangements, but said it had adequate funding from angel investors and recently attracted support from a "large public company."

Why this matters
This is an early example of the virtualization of complex mobile network elements designed to run on commercial hardware. If Connectem's proposition is successful, it could give the likes of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Nokia Networks something to worry about. And even if it isn't, this will mark the latest episode in the industry's series of efforts to bring IT networking techniques to the world of telecom networks.

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— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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