The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) said it will create an independent, venture-backed company around Aether, the group's flagship project launched last year to create private 5G networks for enterprises.
The new company – called Ananki – will be staffed by many of the ONF's top management. For example, ONF's executive director, Guru Parulkar, will be the new company's CEO, and Oğuz Sunay, ONF's vice president for mobility R&D, will be the new company's CTO.
The developments come amid big changes at one of the ONF's top operator backers. AT&T, which last year reached its goal of virtualizing 75% of its network, recently announced it will transition its 5G network operations into Microsoft's cloud over the next three years. Other top ONF members include China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Google, NTT Group and Türk Telekom.
However, an ONF spokesperson rejected the notion that the creation of Ananki represents a pivot by the association into the private sector. The spokesperson said ONF is having its "strongest" year ever, having recently launched new projects including SD-CORE and SD-Fabric. "The new company, Ananki, is about expansion into a new space," Greg Cross of the ONF said.
The ONF was created in 2011 with the goal of evangelizing software-defined networking (SDN) in the telecom industry, a novel idea at the time. The group's executive director has described the ONF as maintaining $10 million in annual funding.
In its press release announcing the formation of Ananki, the ONF explained that a private company would provide "an enhanced, hardened solution so vendors and partners can easily incorporate private 5G into the solutions they then build and deliver to enterprises."
Continued the group: "ONF projects will directly benefit from significant additional contributions as Ananki brings more focus, funding, developers and contributions to the ONF projects. In addition, Ananki will help grow the ONF ecosystem as it encourages broader adoption of ONF platforms. ONF will continue to drive forward its leading initiatives in mobile, broadband and data center networking, continuing to focus on what is next and advancing the state-of-art for the industry."
ONF announced Aether roughly a year ago as an open source platform that would allow enterprises to build private 5G networks using edge computing technologies. The group said it built Aether on top of some of its previous projects, including CORD and ONOS. Aether received a boost late last year when the US military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said it would use the platform as part of its $30 million Pronto project, which is designed to finance the construction of secure, closed-loop telecom networks across a number of universities for research purposes.
Today, ONF touts its Aether-based Ananki spinoff as "making private 5G as easy to consume as Wi-Fi for enterprises."
In that respect, Ananki joins a large and growing number of established companies and startups hoping to sell 5G-based private wireless networking services to enterprise customers around the globe. Mobile network operators like AT&T and Verizon, equipment vendors like Nokia and Ericsson, cloud computing companies like Microsoft and Amazon, and startups like Betacom and Celona are all among the players vying for a piece of the private wireless networking industry.
It's no wonder there's so much interest in the space; Nokia at one point forecast that the private wireless opportunity might ultimately be twice as big as the commercial wireless opportunity.
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- AT&T to offload 5G into Microsoft's cloud