We attended the Comcast Business analyst event in Philadelphia. We find the Business Services part of Comcast is interesting, and so do customers, because it is growing rapidly. It installs a “new Ethernet every four minutes,” and has “40-45K installs per month.” The company shared with the audience that it is expanding the breadth of its services to grow its potential revenue it can get from each customer, and in many cases is either acquiring or developing this technology itself. We see these development efforts as moving up the technology stack.
To understand Comcast Business, you have to know that it has unique approaches to its different customer segments. The organization addresses customers of different sizes, and it does not use the same terminology as some others do: SMB (<20 employees), Mid-market (20+ employees), Enterprise (Fortune 1000). We think it is more common that small is considered 100 employees and smaller, which would include SMB and Comcast’s Mid-Market, and that mid would be 101 employees or greater. Here are the Comcast Business market views:
More details about customer segments. In addition to attacking three customer size groups with distinct approaches, it also serves two verticals (carriers and government) segments with different strategies and recently acquired Deep Blue (May 2019) that serves WiFi to venues and hospitality verticals. Each served customer type uses different combinations of third-party developed technology and Comcast in-house developed technology. The company has 4,000 people developing in-house technology. As a mix of total systems sold to customers, today, Comcast Business uses a higher mix of in-house developed technology when serving its small and mid-market customers than it does when serving large enterprises. The group that serves Enterprise Solutions serves large enterprises using mostly using third-party technology from vendors like Cisco, Fortinet, and HPE.
On the other hand, the company serves smaller-sized customers using fully or partially in-house developed technology. Comcast Business’s SVP Product Management, Bob Victor, summed up its approach to working with third-party vendors by saying, “We want to totally commoditize hardware.” We assume he means this is a long-term goal because, during the event, the company told us of new hardware and software relationships announced with new vendors.
For small and mid businesses, the company has developed several in-house technology systems that compete with vendor-supplied technology. One such example is its WiFi Pro service, which combines internet connection and WiFi service. In WiFi Pro, which was introduced a couple of years ago to small businesses and is available at up to four Access Points, the company sources WLAN access points from a non-branded access point. Based on our discussions at this conference, we would not rule out that at least some of the in-house developed technology may be supplanted by vendor-supplied technology if there is a compelling reason. However, on multiple occasions, we learned that the direction the Comcast Business is going is to develop in-house technologies and bring these directly to customers, first with smaller customers, and perhaps very long term to large enterprises.
Managed Services. The company delivers both transport/network services and transport bundled with other services; there is a case to be made that Comcast Business’ bundled services could be called Managed Services. However, even Comcast says there is some confusion about using the terminology “Managed Services,” because of customer expectations; some customers see it as a very high level of services, where customers do nothing, while others see it as Comcast Business is “working with” the customer to deliver the service.
Playing to Strengths. On an overall basis, Bill Stemper, who runs Comcast Business, says the company’s strategy is to focus on serving the wireline needs of businesses in the US. He says, “this is where we invest. We expect to focus this way for decades.”
Small Business details. Stemper said that the company would bring “mobile to small business.” It will bring mobile to this segment when “all the systems are squared away, and when sales reps are capable of selling this additional service without slowing down customer purchasing decisions on the existing suite of services.” It is currently offering mobile in selected markets to learn more about selling this new service. We expect mobile to small business to be offered sometime in 2020.
Growth Avenues in Mid-Market. The company made it clear that it believes the mid-market is an enormous growth opportunity. And, starting in 2020 and beyond, the company says, it is putting more investment into it to improve coverage, its focus, and its reach. Today, the company has 800 reps targeting the in mid-market and plays to strengths in certain verticals such as government, education, and healthcare.
Large Enterprise Opportunities. Approaching the Fortune 1000, the company has its most meaningful exposure in finance, healthcare, restaurants, retail, hospitality verticals. The company is finding customers who, according to Comcast, are replacing MPLS service with broadband and getting a 50% cost reduction and an order of magnitude speed improvement. Comcast introduced a leader from a large finance company to the audience, and though we cannot name the customer, the company shared that it had moved initially to use Comcast transport, and is currently doing a proof of concept for voice and Comcast’s ActiveCore SD-WAN service. Comcast reiterated its plans to use Cisco, Fortinet, and HPE at large enterprise (Fortune 1000), though implied it is entering another phase that it internally calls Enterprise 2.0 for its Enterprise Solutions group. In Enterprise 2.0, the company hinted it might develop more in-house technology and further implied its ActiveCore (SD-WAN is one service it offers in ActiveCore) might find a home in some large enterprises. Comcast’s customer endorsed the idea of using white box universal CPE loaded with “best of breed services” instead of buying vendor-supplied routers so it will not have to replace 15,000 routers when it comes to upgrading time or transitioning.
Carrier opportunity. Bill Stemper, who leads Comcast Business explained that, since 2009, it has served carrier Ethernet to the mobile industry and it will pursue 5G opportunistically. Elaborating further, Stemper said it would decide whether we can get leverage on new builds to serve 5G simultaneously with other customer types. So, it sounds like building new plant to serve only 5G backhaul is not in the cards.
Deep Blue WLAN. In May 2019, the company acquired a Troy, NY-based WiFi services company. We understand from the presentations that Deep Blue was growing at least 30%/year for several years before the acquisition and that its revenues may have hit around $40M. The company designs/installs third-party WLAN and associated systems, then operates the networks for a recurring fee mainly in verticals such hospitality and large venues. The wholly-owned subsidiary has developed advanced software and services capabilities that could easily be leveraged across the other parts of Comcast Business, but from what we learned, there has been no cross-fertilization as of yet.
Products. The company is expanding the number of services it can deliver to customers, thereby increasing its possible revenues to each customer. It began offering SD-WAN services three years ago. It plans to expand beyond SD-WAN. In its mid-market customer focus, the company will soon offer security (Advanced Firewall and UTM, for instance), routing, and a bit later on, voice gateway (SBC) and WiFi. For premises-based VNFs, these are run on a universal CPE (uCPE) that today costs about $1,000 to Comcast and it will be launching a $500 uCPE with similar capabilities soon. The company is updating the cable plant that serves business users, where 4 M businesses are passed, towards a “mid split” architecture that allows for greater upstream speeds so that initially 50 Mbps up and down will be possible, and then over time 100/100, 300/300 and longer-term 1 Gbps up and down. The company also uses EPON for more demanding needs and places like multiple dwelling units; it won’t be moving to XG PON (10 Gbps) for the foreseeable future.
The company has a multi-vendor approach with these VNFs. This week, it announced Fortinet UTM/security. We expect the company could announce other security, routing and perhaps longer-term, other SD-WAN vendor options. We think the company will stick with a single WiFi cloud controller for at least the next year or so, but indicated it could introduce at least one more vendor’s technology afterward. The $500 uCPE device is capable of 1 Gbps SD-WAN throughput, as well as advanced firewall at 1 Gbps and has UTM at 600 Mbps. These are impressive throughput numbers, we think, especially because similar throughput capabilities are available on proprietary boxes from vendors that cost much more.
Additionally, the product called CBR2, a new version of its Comcast business router, will be coming soon. Both the original CBR and CBR2 have WLAN as a built-in feature. But, neither the CBR nor the CBR2 has sufficient WLAN coverage capabilities to satisfy a mid-sized business, so Comcast thinks its soon-to-be-launched WLAN plans to mid-sized businesses allow it to serve more customers. One such new target from these added WLAN capabilities will be the E-Rate program, which is a partial funding mechanism for K-12 schools overseen by the US FCC, is one such target.
Comcast emphasized that it has spent significant time and resources developing software capabilities that allow it to orchestrate VNFs, to remotely administer customer networks, and to allow multiple VNFs from different vendors, or to allow VNFs that are developedin-house by its customers.
On August 8, 2019, publicly-traded Cambium announced that it had completed the acquisition of the Xirrus products and cloud services from privately-held Riverbed Technology, Inc. Xirrus has been a vendor in the Enterprise WLAN market for a while now and has been associated with its high-performance enterprise-class WLAN products as well as its cloud-managed services. In our research, we find Xirrus has done well in the large venues, the education, government, and retail markets.
We interviewed the team at Cambium today and learned that the company is committed to using channels as a distribution strategy for the combined portfolio. Additionally, the team told us it will be supporting both Cambium WLAN customers as well as Xirrus customers, and that, over time, the products and services will be converged. We think it makes sense to rationalize the products, which will allow future customers to take advantage of developments made at each of the organizations. The team explained that Cambium will be focusing primarily on medium and small-sized customers and that it will not be pursuing large enterprises associated with the Fortune 1000, instance.
The timing of Cambium’s acquisition makes sense on several counts. First, it just completed its Initial Public Offering and is more well-capitalized than when it was a privately-held company. Second, during its IPO, Cambium identified that it expects its exposure to the enterprise market is key to its growth, so getting more exposure here will increase it further. Third, several other companies have acquired enterprise WLAN vendors, and Cambium is part of this greater trend. For instance, Arista Networks completed its acquisition of Mojo Networks in late 2018 and Juniper Networks closed its acquisition of Mist Systems at the end of 1Q19.
Juniper Networks announced plans to acquire Mist Systems for approximately $405M in cash. We think this deal makes sense for Juniper, who can now sell a key technology - WLAN - into its customer base of large and medium enterprises. Valuation of the deal probably fell a bit short of the expectations of some, but the vendor landscape has already seen significant consolidation between Ethernet Switch and Enterprise-class WLAN vendors, with now just a few potential buyers and sellers.
The companies just had a call to discuss the announcement and share the following messages:
Yesterday, Ericsson and Juniper announced plans to partner to tackle 5G transport challenges together. Additionally, Ericsson announced a partnership with optical transport company, ECI. The companies said that Ericsson's Router 6000 product family will focus on fronthaul and backhaul and edge compute and will be complemented by Juniper MX, PTX and SRX Series portfolios providing edge, core and security capabilities. Additionally, in today's presentation to analysts, Ericsson showed that the overall transport capability from Ericsson will also include Optical Transport from both ECI Telecom and Ciena. The Ericsson Network Manager will be capable of managing not only Ericsson products, but also the three families of products from Juniper.
ECI will be used for Metro, and will be completely integrated with the Ericsson OSS platform. The company conceded that it is de-emphasizing its in-house metro optical product line and focusing on ECI. Ciena will be used for long-haul transport predominantly, mainly the Ciena 6500 product. Ericsson concedes that both ECI and Ciena products can move to other domains.
To enable automation for 5G, Ericsson can only guarantee that networks working with Ericsson and its partners can successfully be automated. This automation / partnership topic illustrates just how complex it will be to make 5G networks work properly.
Recall that Ericsson and Juniper had a close partnership that goes back many years. In fact, the Juniper router predecessor to the MX was used as the underlying hardware for Ericsson's very important GGSN/SGSN and later EPC capabilities. Ericsson eventually replaced the Juniper product for EPC with its own Router 6000. Subsequently, Ericsson announced a partnership with Cisco, which was more general in nature. That relationship did not result in much tangible progress, from what we have learned; and the relationship was done under previous management teams for both Cisco and Ericsson. Ericsson explained today in its analyst briefing that Cisco and Ericsson compete in several areas. So, this new Juniper relationship is important in that it re-kindles an old relationship and plays to both companies' strengths.
Keynotes at the NFV World & Zero-Touch Congress in San Jose, California were very interesting today. We share our observations and view of the main themes from these interesting presentations by Nokia, NEC/Netcracker, Google, CenturyTel. The main theme of these presentations, we think, is this: NFV/SDN is now deeply in the deployment and commercial phase, where compared to 3-4 years ago, it was just a concept.
Nokia. The company announced that its Airframe server platform, which is an OCP based design, comes available with either embedded acceleration or pluggable acceleration. This comment includes its software acceleration. The company explained that its Reefshark chipset can be equipped on the Airframe server and can perform better than a non-accelerated server:
In explaining functions that an Airframe with Reefshark can perform, the company gave a good example: massive MIMO beamforming can be assisted by the machine learning capabilities.
NEC/Netcracker. Enrique Gracia presented several uses cases of the NEC/Netcracker customers that related to NFV/SDN. He explained that 16 customers have deployed one or more of these uses cases.
Full Stack OSS/BSS/MANO. A customer deployed this system in 12 weeks to launch a VNF. The system managed both physical and virtual devices.
Expand to a new territory using VNFs from home region. A customer now delivers services to a customer outside the home territory by deploying the software and service from the network location at the home location. In this particular case, NEC/Netcracker and its customer do revenue sharing and VNFs include SD-WAN, virtual firewall and others. The service provider is expected to expand its customer addressable base by 40%, mainly targeting small/medium businesses in this non-home region. This system uses MANO, OSS, BSS and the marketplace. The company says in this case, time to revenue is expected to take 50% less time to deploy new VNFs in the future.
uCPE (Universal Customer Premises Equipment) deployment instead of branded hardware. The company worked with a service provider company to enable uCPE to be deployed as an alternative to Cisco, Juniper and others' gear.
Google Cloud. Vijoy Pandey, who represented Google Cloud, presented on the topic of using AI/ML to reconfigure its data center system. The company's cloud data center architecture has been evolving continuously since it was first introduced. Currently, the company is using its own AI/ML system to learn from current network traffic patterns in order to design its future network architecture.
CenturyTel. The company has deployed Broadcom based Ethernet switches using its own Network OS. These switches do their own packet forwarding. Additionally, the company has built its own orchestration system called VICTOR. It draws upon Ansible, NetCONF, uses the service logic interpreter from ONAP and uses parts of Open Daylight. The company plans to open source this development and the spokesperson Adam Dunstan said, perhaps jokingly, that this might be called ONAP-lite.
We attended the #OFC18 show and found the major theme to be the emergence of 400 Gbps modules. The next most noteworthy theme, we though, was that made by a single company, Nokia, which made its PSE-3 engine announcement. Juniper also caused a buzz with the introduction of its ACX6360 router/packet optical product announcement (paired with other announcements, too). There were countless other announcements at the show that we will touch on in our reports, but these struck us a quite noteworthy.
400 Gbps optical modules, generally, are expected to be ready for sampling in the next couple months, and then be ready for volume shipments in 1H19. Most every module vendor is planning to introduce DD-QSFP. A subset of the same vendors was demonstrating OSFP modules, suggesting it was less popular at this time. We recognized a sub-theme of the 400 Gbps theme was that vendors, including Cisco and Juniper were both demonstrating hardware designs that are capable of operating at 15 Watts, which appears to be the heat that will be generated for some of the 400 Gbps modules. At the time of the show, module companies reported to us that the DSPs that would power 400 Gbps modules were unavailable, and the way it was represented to us on multiple occassions was that there is no clear indication which DSP maker would introduce the first working part.
Nokia made its PSE-3 chip announcement in support of its Optical Transport product line. It was standing room only, with lots of customers involved in the presentation (not just a bunch of analysts and competitors). We were impressed with the marketing aspect of this announcement, but also with the the statement, "we have reached the economic Shannon's limit" with the introduction of the PSE-3 engine. The implication of economic Shannon's limit is that to achieve an even more efficient design that would asymptote even closer to the theoretical Shannon's limit would be too costly. The company is claiming 25% improvement in capacity and reach, 70% increased network capacity, 60% reduction in power per bit. Chungwa Telecom and Facebook were live, on stage, serving as references for Nokia's launch. We expect full fledged PSE-3 based products will be available in about 9-12 months based on discussions at the show.
Juniper announced its ACX6360 system (as well the announcement of the ACX5448 Universal Metro Router and the PTX10002 Packet Transport Router). The ACX6360 can operate as a packet optical device, and with a software update, can also operate as a router. The general idea behind the introduction of this product is it can serve in either the packet optical transport role or as a IP/MPLS router, thereby collapsing multiple networking layers into a single platform operating at speeds up to 200 Gbps. For many uses cases, it could reduce the number of boxes from two (packet optical plus router) to one (ACX6360).
New CTO - It was great to see and hear Juniper’s new CTO, Bikash Koley at NXTWORK. The message was very clear that new networks need to be built, not only from the speeds and feeds technology point of view, but from the operator point of view. Scale and simplicity are very important and only going to be more critical as billions of IoT devices dump traffic and data on the network. Juniper is looking to take the network it is building for some of the hyperscalers and Service providers and take help the tier 2/3 Cloud as well as the enterprise customer adopt a cloud architecture for the future.
Contrail – The big announcement was OpenContrail joining the Linux foundation. What we saw in talking to customers and listening to the talks was that Contrail has significant commercial adoption, definitely larger than perceived in the marketplace. We see the largest hyperscalers and service providers as having their own controllers, but see Juniper leveraging its expertise in this area into smaller Cloud and service providers. This will give Juniper the opportunity to build, operate, and transfer for many customers.
We were impressed with the caliber of customers that Juniper has. Juniper has premier Cloud, Service Provider, and Enterprise customers. We enjoyed listening to Twitter’s VP of engineering on stage as an example. We see Juniper as one of just a handful of vendors that can support a customer base with this breath and complexity. We note Juniper mentioned complexity and simplicity throughout the sessions; we only see networking getting more complex, especially as we move beyond 100 Gbps. It is up to vendors to help the human scale with that complexity and we saw Juniper give many good examples during NXTWORK 2017.