Microsoft announced that it had acquired privately-held Affirmed Networks today. This isn't the first software/services based telecom acquisition it has made, with the 2011 acquisition of Skype being the most prominent one. Other competitors to Microsoft have made forays into the telecom market, including Facebook's 2014 purchase of WhatsApp, Oracle's 2013 acquisitions of Tekelec and Acme Packet.
Microsoft's acquisition can be viewed as both collaborative with mobile network operators or competitive with them, and it certain pits the giant against telecom equipment vendors like Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei. Let me explain.
Federated Wireless, a pioneer in the CBRS SAS market, just announced its plans for an AFC for the upcoming 6 GHz spectrum in the US market. The company expects that 6 GHz products and its AFC to be commercially available sometime in 2021, and potentially as early as late 2020. For those who are unfamiliar with what is behind this announcement, let us explain. Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) is a 150 Mhz wide broadcast band from 3.55 GHz to 3.7 Ghz in the US market, and Federated Wireless is one of main companies offering SAS, which enables multiple spectrum-users to share the 3.5 GHz spectrum. So, now that the US FCC is planning to open up the 6 GHz spectrum as unlicensed, allowing Wi-Fi 6E and 4G/5G cellular (or other systems) to operate, there’s an emerging need to coordinate what exact frequency bands in the 6 GHz range should be allowed on a per device basis; this service is called an AFC (automated frequency coordinator).
We think the timing for Federated Wireless’ AFC announcement is good. There is considerable excitement about Wi-Fi 6E (the version of Wi-Fi 6 that will operate in this new 6 GHz spectrum). Consider that two significant Wi-Fi infrastructure chip companies, Broadcom (on January 7, 2020), Qualcomm (February 25, 2020), announced products that operator in this 6 GHz spectrum.
There is some controversy as to whether the AFC service will be needed for some or all of the working device types, installation locations (indoor or outdoor) and device power output levels. There are two camps, which can be summarized as “what the Wi-Fi companies want,” and “what the incumbents want.” The Wi-Fi companies have repeatedly explained that requiring an AFC for very-low power or low-power 6 GHz use in the US will slow down the market (VK Jones, VP Technology of Qualcomm Atheros said so last August, 2019, for instance). However, Federated Wireless has studied multiple major cities in the US and found that there are some cases where, in populous areas, the new 6 GHz devices could interfere with incumbent services like microwave links of mobile operators, public safety, utilities and transportation. We understand the FCC is reviewing this information and may communicate with the public as soon as April 2020. We expect the various parties (Wi-Fi players, incumbents, FCC, AFC players) to make some concessions in the coming months.
Today, HPE Aruba announced its Aruba Air Pass cloud service that allows for a hand-off between cellular and Wi-Fi networks. The service is enabled by Passpoint, which is a standard created by the Wi-Fi Alliance. The idea is that a mobile operator customer can go into a building with Wi-Fi coverage and, without having to "log on" to the Wi-Fi, the user's phone will automatically connect. Using Air Pass means that mobile operators won't need to build a cellular infrastructure in these buildings for customers to continue with their phone calls.
For mobile customers to see the benefit of seamless roaming from the Air Pass service, mobile operators will need to engage in a relationship with the property owners of the building. While this seems like a lot of work, connecting to Air Pass will be far easier than it would be for a property owner to install a cellular network inside the building. Examples of in-building cellular that can operate either on licensed, shared or unlicensed spectrum is a Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) system or licensed small cells. Building owners or operators have to build new, in-building cellular if they want cellular coverage. Managed Service Providers, such as Federated Wireless, have begun selling a service to property owners where they will manage the cellular infrastructure for the owner.
Aruba has some competition for its service to allow Wi-Fi sharing to mobile operator customers. In February 2020, Cisco announced its Unified Domain Center as a means of sharing Wi-Fi coverage with mobile operators, as well, and claimed that it is at the proof of concept stage with operators. Also, Swedish software and services company, Aptilo, has created systems that allow SIM-based device users to roam onto Wi-Fi, as well. We applaud the efforts of Aruba, Cisco, Aptilo and many others who have built systems to allow device users to roam between cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
There has been a lot of excitement by mobile operators and cellular equipment suppliers about the 5G opportunity to expand to enterprises. In November 2019, for instance, Nokia discussed how enterprises are adopting its Private LTE systems to allow cellular coverage at customers such as utilities and shipping ports. We have been cautious on the idea that mobile operators will get lots of new revenue from providing cellular coverage to the enterprise; a year ago, we laid out our thoughts on the 5G Enterprise hype at the MWC19 show.
The implications of the emergence of services like Air Pass and the capabilities of Unified Domain Center is that Enterprise Wi-Fi coverage will be leveraged in the 5G era far more than all the hype about "5G" wiping out the need for Wi-Fi. However, we also feel that cellular systems will see growing popularity in certain enterprise verticals, as was evident at the MWC-Americas 2019 show.
Cloud providers are rapidly evolving their network topology architectures as they move towards 400 Gbps and beyond. One trend resonating across the industry is the move towards CLOS switch rack or Distributed Disaggregated Chassis (DDC) topologies and the use of copper above the server access layer. However, the distances DAC can serve continue to shrink with each increase in speed, and fiber remains costly.
DDC will ramp in 2H20. Both Service Provider and Data Center networks will take advantage of the power density provided by 25.6Tbps switch silicon to deploy dense in-rack CLOS architectures. Active Electrical Cables (AEC) such as HiWire™ AEC are a key enabling technology for DDC architectures.
In many ways, DDC CLOS architectures use copper cables as a replacement for the traditional modular chassis backplane. As we look towards this architecture change, we see three unique form factors of cable emerging to replace DAC and AOC.
Active Optical Cable (AOC) Replacement
Products like Credo HiWire™ SPAN AEC will begin to replace AOC. A fully populated rack of AOC can often have the same power as the switches themselves, and the current supply chain does not have consistent high-volume availability. AOC also has a high relative cost of a fiber solution. This type of copper solution will have longer distances and will potentially move into use cases around the middle of row connectivity.
Gear Shifting Splitter Cables
Products like Credo HiWire™ SHIFT AEC will gearbox between SERDES speeds. While today, the most common option is splitting a 56 Gbps SERDES into two 25 Gbps ports, we expect this type of cable to become more popular when 112 Gbps SERDES begin to ship. For example, a purpose-built 48-port 100 Gbps switch with 112 Gbps SERDES could become multipurpose and split down to 25/50 Gbps ports for server access or switch-to-switch connectivity.
Low Cost, Short-Reach Cables
Products like Credo HiWire™ CLOS AEC will begin to enter the market for short distances within the rack. Today DAC comes in one type of solution; however, with DDCs becoming more popular, a new type of purpose-built and short-reach cable should emerge to connect switches within a rack. By purpose-building for this use case, the cable should be cheaper, thinner and lower power, which is attractive when trying to pack so many cables into a single rack.
We expect that newer copper technologies will also benefit from improved process geometries over the next 12-18 months. Moving from 28nm to 12nm and below will help drive down cost in the interconnect part of the market in a very similar way of the moving from 28nm to 16nm to 7nm had huge cost savings in the switch ASIC itself.
By Alan Weckel, Founder and Technology Analyst at 650 Group.
Qualcomm made many wireless-related announcements today from its San Diego, CA headquarters, in place of making a presentation at #MWC20 in Barcelona. Top announcements included its FSM100xx 5G small cell chips customer announcements, RF-chip availability, Wi-Fi 6E demonstrations, and 5G smartphone customer announcements.
FSM100xx 5G RAN endorsements. Qualcomm announced its FSM 5G RAN platform in May 2018, targeting small cells and remote radio heads and enabling bothmmWave and sub-6 GHz spectrum using 10 nm process geometry. The company listed multiple vendors and operators in its press announcement relating to FMS100xx chips. Each of the vendors shared some interesting statistics, the most important of which we share here:
Qualcomm ultraSAW Filter. Expect availability in 2H20. Hit parity in performance in 2019 and now claims that its ultraSAW Filter will exceed performance of competitors, especially in high-bands.
Wi-Fi 6E. Qualcomm demonstrated 6 GHz operation between its Networking Pro Series (Wi-Fi 6 chips for Wi-Fi infrastructure like access points and routers). Qualcomm was not specific about the timetable for delivery of 6 GHz systems, but the company hinted that the 6 GHz demonstration “underscores Qualcomm’s readiness to extend its successful Wi-Fi 6 portfolio into the 6 GHz band for a transformative Wi-Fi 6E performance, pending regulatory approval.” The company expects that mobile devices using its Snapdragon 865 Mobile chips (intended for user devices like smartphones) can operate more than 3 Gbps when using the new 6 GHz spectrum, or 1.8 Gbps when using existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz available today. Qualcomm said its Networking Pro Series (Wi-Fi 6 chips) have been “deployed in more than 200 designs shipping or in development.”
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Mobile Platform. The company announced that its chip system for mobile phones that features its second-generation 5G Modem-RF system, the Snapdragon X55, has been “announced or are in development” in over 70 designs, including those from top vendors such as OPPO, Samsung, Xiaomi and ZTE.
Additionally, the company made VR devices and Personal Computer (PC) announcements including partners such as Facebook (VR) and Microsoft (PC).
Cisco’s many MWC announcements include a system to unify WiFi, LTE, CBRS, 5G called Unified Domain Center
We review the new announcements Cisco made public for the now-cancelled MWC20 show, and they are: BNG on unified control plane, Unified Domain Center-to-DNA Center interoperation, IoT Control Center, SP Services Edge (CDN), new Open RAN partners, NCS 540 router with CPRI support, and Crosswork automation platform. Since MWC is a show primarily focused on mobile and wireless, we think the two announcements that are most “wireless” in nature were: (a) Unified Domain Center announcement, which will unify management of WiFi to cellular operator LTE is interesting and (b) the partnerships Cisco announced with Open RAN vendors like Parallel Wireless, NEC and World Wide Technology.
Summary of announcements by Cisco:
Unified Domain Center
IOT Control Center
SP Services Edge
Converged SDN Transport “New Engines”
Automated Network Operations
Trusted path routing
Federated Wireless announced that it will offer a managed service that will be offered to enterprises that plan to operate private cellular networks (both 4G and 5G). For companies to use Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum (3.5 GHz) in the US market, a service provider called a SAS is required; Federated is a pioneer in this SAS market. What the company announced today, though, is that not only is it going to offer SAS services to customers, but it will now offer discovery, planning, design, building, operations and support services that will allow enterprise to get the benefit of cellular coverage in their facilities.
Another very interesting facet to the Federated Wireless entry to managed services is that it has also announced selling partnerships with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. In summary, customers can visit each AWS or Azure sites, click some buttons and then Federated will show up and build and operate the cellular network to allow services such as critical communications (like employee-to-employee communications), mobility services (such as trucks moving onsite), Wi-Fi backhaul (without the need for installing new conduit and wires), IoT sensor deployment, and many other uses.
Federated will be an enabler to companies who don't want to work with traditional mobile network operators in order to expand cellular coverage to their corporate locations. What this means is in the US market, companies may contact AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile to get licensed cellular, but now they can contact Federated Wireless to get their own shared-spectrum, in this case CBRS, network that carries only their traffic.
We expect that Wi-Fi 6E products to hit the market as soon as 3Q20 in the US and by 4Q20 in Europe. The appeal of these new 802.11ax products is that they operate not just in 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, as 802.11ac products have, but now add 6 GHz spectrum support. The US products will likely support 1.2 GHz of spectrum, while European products may support about 0.5 GHz of spectrum.
We expect that throughput of higher-end Wi-Fi 6E access points may exceed 5 Gbps under some operating conditions, which may drive the discussion towards 10 Gbps switching. The higher throughput "backhaul" may mean that MultiGig Ethernet (that operates at 2.5 Gbps and/or 5 Gbps and takes advantage of older copper cabling installed primarily for 1 Gbps switches) could get another use-case compared to a scenario where 6 Ghz support never came to market. There is also another potential that the market moves faster to 10 Gbps and/or fiber.
We will be publishing our forecasts for Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), MultiGig Ethernet and 10 Gbps Ethernet in a few weeks. These forecasts will incorporate final 2019 numbers from vendors, as well as our updated views on 2020 macroeconomic scenarios, and the potential coronavirus impact (corvid-19).
Today, Amazon kicked off AWS Re:Invent with the Andy Jassy keynote. We were impressed to see David M. Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, on stage, talking about how the Apple credit card was built on top of AWS. The claim that it could not launch a card like that without the Cloud was interested.
On to chips…
Graviton 2 was announced today. 64 cores, 7nm with 25 Gbps networking is impressive for a 2nd generation CPU. Graviton 2 being on 7nm already is also very impressive, showing how far and fast Anapurna has gone since being acquired by Amazon. Amazon claimed a 40% better price-performance than x86.
New Inf1 instances for AI. Built on Anapurna chip development. Again, quoting a 40% lower cost than the lasts NVIDIA chips for inference.
Some other highlights of today included:
40% of new AWS customers start with Fargate for containers
SSD speed is outpacing the CPU and networking, potentially causing a bottle neck
The largest amount of PoPs, backbone, and direct connect of any IaaS provider
Last week, at Nokia's analyst meeting in Helsinki, it discussed its achievements and its challenges. The company’s successes include its traction and product introductions on the enterprise market, its market traction in selling Nokia’s end-to-end portfolio, and its 5G market momentum. Management reiterated that Nokia has signed 50 5G deals and its products are involved in 16 live 5G network. The company addresses some of its challenges, as well, including its delays in Systems on Chip (SoC) development progress, its diminished operating margins, competitive challenges in China, and an acknowledgement of increased price competition in the 5G era. We focus our writeup on two main topics: Enterprise and semiconductors.
Enterprise. The company leads with private LTE in selling to mostly outdoor environments where mobility needs are key. Nokia calls these networks “private wireless.” Generally, the target companies are those that are asset-intensive businesses, and Nokia has no current plans to go down-market. Nokia has sold to 120 enterprise customers as of September 2019, up from 80 as of June 2019.
Semiconductors. The company discussed semiconductors at great length at the meeting. Here is a summary of the main chips that were discussed.