The emergence of 5G and virtualization in all areas of the communications landscape has, in many cases, sped up the disruption of the traditional telecom equipment market. Incumbent equipment vendors are now scrapping with a bunch of software-powered startups that provide some combination of web-scale agility and telco-grade resiliency to networking, routing, 5G radio access networks and a whole host of other problems. In addition to new software stars, this selection of private companies also includes an all-star distribution and integration firm, as well as a service provider that is quickly building out the New York metro area's 5G foundation.
In all, we shortlisted six companies for their overall performance and influence in the last year, with the award going to the privately held firm we think stands out from its competitors, innovates constantly, makes investors proud and makes employees happy. The companies in the running this year are:
The Leading Lights winners, and the identities of this year's Light Reading Hall of Fame inductees, will be announced online, on August 21, during a special video presentation on www.lightreading.com, one month before the start of the Big 5G Event.
Here's a closer look at the companies shortlisted for Company of the Year (Private):
Altiostar has been at the forefront of providing open, virtualized radio access network (RAN) solutions for years. But in the span between April 2019 and March 2020, the company really hit its stride. NEC became a partner. Rakuten became a flagship customer.
Suddenly the company's baseband RAN technology is powering some 12,000 radios across Japan's mobile infrastructure in one of the most-watched networks on Earth. In nearly every deployment of record, Altiostar is working with a different set of partners, making it a proponent and practitioner of diverse supplier ecosystems, something that network operators have long supported (in word only, usually). "The innovation, impact, and disruption in technology combined with successful customer adoption is the reason Altiostar should win Private Company of the Year," the company summed up in its Leading Lights entry.
One reason we're so bullish about the virtualized, disaggregated router market is that there's such a huge increase in traffic globally and we know that there's not a huge increase happening in terms of what consumers and businesses will pay for data use and Internet access. The constant need for more routing and switching means routing and switching costs are heading to zero.
New software-centric startups like Arrcus are well funded and primed to take advantage of that shift away from big, expensive, integrated solutions with networking software that provides carrier-class functionality and features using whitebox hardware and capex-friendly deployment models. "Our best-in-class software is hardware agnostic, offered in a flexible consumption model with the lowest total cost of ownership," the company writes in its Leading Lights entry.
Carriers and enterprises are using the software (the company claims more than 10 revenue-generating customers to date). In Arrcus, these firms have specific use case networking solutions – the startup's IP Clos, peering and edge computing use cases were available during the 2019-20 contest period. Arrcus customers will also find a handy new competitive lever to keep down the cost of more traditional routing and networking offerings from Arista, Cisco and others.
We think Cohere deserves a lot of credit for pivoting hard away from being a hardware-based solutions provider and really embracing its softer side. The startup's technology can be deployed in the cloud and enable the spatial replication of radios, giving mobile network operators a more flexible and efficient alternative to using integrated systems embedded in incumbent radio access network systems. "We believe we can double network capacity initially – significantly more as more antennas are added," Cohere's CEO, Ray Dolan, told Light Reading. The company's acceptance at big network operators is happening as we speak and, we're eager to see those details make their way to the public.
As noted earlier, a big disruption is underway in the world of service provider routing. And, at the center of it, is DriveNets, another well-funded concern whose routing architecture is roughly the same one proposed by AT&T to the Open Computing Foundation as part of its Distributed Disaggregated Chassis (DDC) model. The DDC is AT&T's push to drive economies of scale in hardware and software as it aims to build out a wide area data network in a more flexible, cost-effective way.
The DriveNets architecture can support the largest core networks in the world with routing clusters that behave as one big router – or at least that's how it looks to aggregation, peering, and access solutions with the same white boxes. The operational simplicity compared to multiple hardware-based routers of multiple sizes has caught the attention of Tier 1 carriers. "This eliminates the need for multiple router sizes and models and has the immediate advantage of cost reduction, increased visibility, and control down to the container level," writes the analyst team at Bank of America, in a note to clients back in March.
World Wide Technology
One of the highlights of this past Leading Lights contest period (April 2019-March 2020) was touring the WWT Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in St. Louis. This lab is exactly how network operators and technology vendors can work on deploying more open, multivendor networks without losing time-to-market and piling on a ton of risk. WWT is much more than just a distribution center and the company showed that off with the nearly $1 billion in hardware and software that it has running in the ATC. WWT is an IT and telecom powerhouse with a combination of facilities that offer "more than 4 million square feet of warehousing and integration space" that can move "nearly 70,000 fully-configured products per month" for its customers (pre-pandemic, obviously).
In the New York metro area, ZenFi is connected to 46 network edge colocation sites throughout the region and has over 1,100 route miles of fiber and connections to the major wireless providers, like AT&T and T-Mobile. The company constantly comes up when we discuss mobile densification and 5G in the largest US city. In the pandemic, with the economics becoming more challenging for dark fiber middlemen and, indeed, the acquisition rumors are already surfacing. The company's CRAN design, which connects pools of centralized baseband unit (BBU) and remote radio unit (RRU) networks with fiber, is one reason the major carriers providing service to NYC and surrounding areas can get up and running so quickly.