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Packet core

Starent's Double Whammy

LAS VEGAS -- CTIA Wireless 2008 -- Starent Networks Corp. (Nasdaq: STAR) has stormed into the CTIA tradeshow on the back of two significant Tier 1 carrier deals that solidify its position as the leading independent vendor in the mobile core network equipment market.

Starent, whose mobile core routers perform multiple functions such as policy management and data service billing support, announced Monday it has landed a deal with Vodafone Germany as part of a broader "preferred vendor" deal with the Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD). (See Starent Wins VOD Deal.)

Vodafone Germany will use the vendor's ST40 platform to help manage and deliver data services such as video downloads and Internet access, which are growing in popularity as the carrier rolls out its HSPA (high speed packet access) network.

The deal provides some respite for Starent in Germany, where it lost out to Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. in the race to provide T-Mobile International AG with a new mobile core platform in multiple European markets. (See The Huawei Equation and Huawei's Core Euro Breakthrough.)

Then today, Starent announced its ST40 product has been chosen as the multimedia core platform for Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s Xohm WiMax network rollout. (See Starent Lands Sprint Deal and CES: Sprint's in the XOHM.)

The news helped to lift Starent's share price by $0.40, nearly 3 percent, to $13.90 by mid-Tuesday.

Starent's news, and Huawei's selection by T-Mobile and more recently by Saudi operator Etihad Etisalat Co. (Mobily) , show that Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Nokia Networks , Nortel Networks Ltd. , Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) face stiff competition in what is emerging as a key area of next-generation mobile infrastructure development. (See Mobily Picks Huawei, Unstrung Insider: Decoding Open Access, and Open Mobile Networks: A Gateway to the Internet .)

Vodafone's strategy indicates just how open this market is. While Starent has a group-wide deal with Vodafone, the global operator has also set up a development lab with Huawei in Europe, though the Chinese vendor noted recently that no commercial deals had resulted from the engagement.

In addition, Vodafone's global CTO is Steve Pusey, who joined the carrier from a senior post at Nortel. While at Nortel, Pusey would have been very aware of Starent, which has been a key Nortel partner, as well as a competitor, for a number of years. (See Vodafone Nabs Nortel Exec and Nortel Mothballs Shasta.)

And Starent is working hard on new developments to retain its status as leading edge multi-standard mobile data platform vendor. The company recently unveiled the Femtocell Gateway, which acts as a security gateway and data traffic aggregator for carriers deploying femtocells, the home base stations that are exciting the vendor and carrier communities alike. (See Starent Intros Femto Solution, Femtocells Face Uncertain Future in US, Femto Firms Counter Interference Flak, Femtocells Go Big Time in Barcelona, and Cisco, Ericsson Swell Femto Forum Ranks.)

The firm is also working on its migration path toward System Architecture Evolution (SAE), the mobile core standard that will support 4G networks. (See MWC Preview: LTE in the Limelight and 3G LTE: How Far? How Fast?)

VP of product management Gennady Sirota told Light Reading recently that Starent is heavily involved in the SAE standard development work, and is working closely with carriers "to figure out how to do a seamless upgrade" from current deployments to SAE. "We can't say anything specific at the moment, but we haven't done any forklift upgrades in the past, and we don't expect to do any in the future."

So a software upgrade path looks likely, then.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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