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.
The main message of Ribbon keynotes was that Ribbon has moved from a voice and SBC focus to a broader scope including data and analytics, such as UCaaS, Security-as-a-Service, Service Assurance-as-a-Service, SIP Trunking-as-a-Service, SD-WAN, and analytics. The company identified two major catalysts to the change in company scope: the August 2018 acquisition of enterprise SBC company Edgewater and the February 2019 acquisition of analytics company, anova. Additionally, the company confirmed that it is not pursuing service provider mobile market opportunities such as EPC or “full IMS” that are components of larget mobile equipment larger vendors. Instead, Ribbon is pursuing the mobile market by offering overlay analytics services that allow SP customers to derive value from mobile operators using monetization, network, marketing, and customer care.
The company’s core business is evolving. For instance, the company has doubled down on the Enterprise market with its Edgewater acquisition, and a result, it emphasized that it is unique because it has both service provider and enterprise SBC product offerings. The company has offered SBC on public cloud and reiterated that this capability has been available for one year. The company highlighted that it has a Tier-1 Mobile Network Operator VoLTE Interconnect contract win.
Analytics. The company sees its opportunity in the analytics market is to deliver technology to the customer for the following cases:
• Monetization (Targeting, Advertising, Sponsored Data, Campaign Efficacy)
• Network (Reduce Network Cost, Improved Quality of Experience, Proactive Alarms, Network Service Assurance)
• Marketing (Service bundles, churn reduction, product insights, inferred demographics)
• Customer Care (customer experience, bill shock, most probably cause)
We are impressed with Ribbon’s technical capabilities when it comes to using GPUs. The company has previously discussed the performance of its GPU based media interworking function as being 3.5x more powerful than a DSP-based system, or 9x more powerful than a CPU-based system and over 2x more power efficient. The company says its GPU-based systems are generally available for its D-SBC and i-SBC functions. It has evaluations at three operators: Tier-1 US MNO, Tier-1 US CSP, and Tier-1 Japan CSP. We would not be surprised if some of these customers begin deploying soon. One of its Tier-1 operators found that the GPU-based system costs half as much in capital spending and is 800% more power efficient.
Kandy, the white-label voice/messaging services brand of Ribbon discussed its success with customers such as BT, NUWAVE, AT&T, Hong Kong Broadband, Optus, and ecosystem partner, Five9. It enables UCaaS, CPaaS and WebRTC services. The company reiterated that it plans to go to market with partners, mainly service providers, instead of opening its own store-front that would compete with service providers. The company says its customer pipeline is growing.
Our big takeaway from its recent global analyst meeting was that Nokia is formalizing its enterprise business. Of course, the company’s primary business, which focuses on telecom service providers, is undergoing major product updates, including towards 5G, Fixed Wireless Access and towards network slicing. We have published about these topics in other posts relating to Nokia in the past several months, having attended other Nokia events, so we focus on topics we haven’t discussed recently.
The company acknowledges that telco capex is expected to be unexciting and is redoubling efforts to gather enterprise customers. In 3Q18, Enterprise represented 5% of revenues. The company expects 8% CAGR for Enterprise Networking. Of course, the company covered many topics beyond enterprise, including its view on megatrends, the importance of spectrum instead of differentiation between 4G and 5G, residential WiFi and Fixed Wireless Access, its recent wins at major telcos, the impact of the recent re-organization, the impact of the trade war and other topics.
Enterprise market, Private cellular and WiFi. The company’s view is that private LTE will challenge WiFi for certain applications in its “strategic” enterprise markets, including for verticals such as logistics and transportation. Considering the Nokia view, we expect private LTE and WiFi will co-exist in the future. We think that Nokia can succeed with its private LTE strategy, because this is mostly a “greenfield” opportunity. Many of the cases Nokia explains it is seeing success are outdoor, not indoor, where WiFi is so popular. A number of industries are likely to adopt private LTE (mining, logistics are good examples), and later 5G, but we expect most every industry will maintain their reliance on WiFi. We keep in mind that in light of the fact that 802.11ax (which began shipping 3Q18) incorporates many more cellular-like capabilities, WiFi will have a seat at the table for some time to come even in these critical industries. Interestingly, by leveraging service provider channels, the company has plans to enter the “branch” enterprise network market, using SD-WAN as its “Trojan horse” to enter.
Megatrends. From a strategy standpoint, Nokia sees megatrends: Ubiquitous connectivity, multi-cloud, deep analytics, industrial IoT and regulatory.
Spectrum takes on new importance. On mobile radio, the company focuses on spectrum differences as much as the difference between 4G and 5G. The company’s view is all macro basestations should have mmWave. Describing its 5G ramp, Nokia’s factory capacity related to 5G infrastructure has quadrupled this most recent quarter; and the company “went to volume shipments” on its new, in-house Reefshark chips in 3Q18.
Residential WiFi and Fixed Wireless Access. The company’s new mesh WiFi will be made available at its first service provider customer’s stores in the month of November. This mesh technology is from the recent acquisition of Unium. The company’s first Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) customers have begun deployments, for both 4G cellular and WiGig (60 Ghz 802.11ad). We understand that the 4G cellular projects are largely at mobile service providers working to leverage existing investments in their mobile infrastructure, while WiGig is in demand at enterprises and traditionally fixed-line service providers. The company expects 5G FWA infrastructure will be ready to ship in 2019.
Recent wins at service providers. New wins announced €2B around this event include “frame wins” at major Chinese service providers
The impact of the recent re-organization. On the day of its recent earnings call, the company announced a planned re-organization, along with some reductions in force, to reduce spending so the company can hit its year 2020 financial targets. The importance of this re-org, from our standpoint, is that the Software division of the company will be in charge of managing several products that used to be part of the Mobile division beginning Jan 1, 2019. Products moving from Mobile to Software include IMS CSCF and TAS. We have verified that Packet Core (including EPC/4G and 5G Core) will remain in the ION (IP and Optical Networks) division, where it has been for years.
Trade war. According to Rajeev Suri, CEO of Nokia, Australia, UK, Korea, Japan, possibly Canada all may ban Chinese telecom gear. Suri expects that Nokia’s “working assumptions” are that: (a) around 20-25% Chinese market share is available for foreign vendors, and (b) potentially, ZTE will take more share in China, and that (c) foreigners (like Nokia) will still be able to play. Suri explained that Nokia hasn’t seen Chinese vendors get more aggressive in Middle East and Africa (MEA).
At Mavenir’s analyst meeting in Dallas today, the company stated that it expects to grow its revenues about 10% Y/Y in 2018. In arriving at this revenue, it is pursuing a price-aggressor strategy to some extent and has a surprisingly broad portfolio of telecom-focused products. Its product line is software-oriented, though the company does still have hardware development on an ongoing basis. Using 5G as its ‘insertion point,’ the company is working on a strategy to get 10-15 large, Tier 1 mobile network operators at the tens-of-millions per year level. The company’s portfolio encompasses voice core, messaging core, mobile packet core and radio access networks. What is really interesting is that Mavenir expects to expand past its traditional revenue stream (telecom core and messaging) into the radio market, with revenues coming in 2019.
In its traditional telecom core market, the company suggested that some of its customer wins are with Tier 1 mobile network operators across its product portfolio, including IMS/VoLTE, EPC/5GCore, Security and advertising messaging. To illustrate its success in selling a differentiated Telecom Core portfolio, it shared subscriber statistics that its operator customers who use Mavenir core system such as IMS TAS, CSCF and RCS application servers (mostly supporting VoLTE, and secondarily RCS):
In its new market, RAN, this is exciting – Mavenir is a new entrant to the RAN market, and it is US-based. The company expects that it will have Radio Access Network (RAN) revenue in 2019 after successful completion of trials now underway. For reference, the company’s RAN systems generally follow open standards such as xRAN and can be considered “cloud RAN.”