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Startup Affirmed Brings Virtualization To Mobile Operators' Networks

As anyone with a smart phone knows, the main application most of us use our devices for today is data. From social media, to GPS directions to internet surfing or apps like Flipboard, the amount of data traveling through mobile networks is increasing exponentially.

As anyone with a smart phone knows, the main application most of us use our devices for today is data. From social media, to GPS directions to internet surfing or apps like Flipboard, the amount of data travelling through mobile networks is increasing exponentially.

For IT or network pros who work for mobile operators, they need to design networks that can provide for this rapidly growing data usage without blowing through their company’s capex budget.

One startup that is at the forefront of revolutionizing the architecture of mobile operators is Affirmed Networks. The company makes use of a trend that is now widely used by enterprises – virtualization – and applies this to the network architecture of mobile operators. Joining us today to discuss more about what Affirmed Networks is doing is their Vice President of Product Management Amit Tiwari.

IT Specialist Thank you for joining us today Amit. Can you provide some brief background on Affirmed Networks, such as what year you were started and the background of the founders?

Amit Affirmed Networks was founded on the premise of helping mobile operators solve the operational and financial challenges of deploying 4G mobile data networks. The approach used to building 3G networks with bigger, proprietary, and increasingly expensive boxes was not financially or operationally justifiable given that data growth far exceeded the capabilities of this equipment.

We embraced the idea that the mobile networks were in need of a major architectural shift and business model overhaul. Our approach is to radically impact both the cost of the network, as well as the revenue potential by building out the mobile network using virtualized software within a data center or cloud.

Affirmed Networks is led by a veteran team of executives and technologists from the mobile telecommunications industry’s most successful companies, including AT&T, Cisco, Sonus, Starent, and Cascade.

IT SpecialistWhat was the inspiration behind the founding of Affirmed Networks? Was there one ‘aha!’ moment or is this something you’ve been looking at for a long time?

Amit The “aha” moment evolved from the conversations we had with mobile operators – many of whom our management team worked with at previous telecommunications companies. These operators told us repeatedly of the need to greatly simplify their networks and create new revenue streams, all while also realizing significant capital expenditure savings.

Mobile users are placing incredible new demands on networks. Not only are they consuming capacity faster than ever before, but the diversity of their applications is also exploding.

The status quo way of dimensioning networks with proprietary hardware was unsustainable economically, and because the mobile data growth far exceeded Moore’s Law. In parallel, the virtualization of IT networks had matured to the point where the technology could be applied to mobile networks, which have an entirely different set of considerations.

IT Specialist Can you explain a bit more about what the virtualization of mobile broadband is and what it means in practice? How does it differ from traditional architecture that’s been used?

Amit Virtualization of mobile networks differs from IT networks in that there are specific protocols and standards that ensure interoperability with different parts of the network, starting from the radio access network, through what’s called the packet core. The packet core interacts with control plane elements that are involved in billing, charging, policy, and accounting, while at the same time processing sessions that breakout to packet data networks, such as the Internet or an Enterprise Network. Layered on top of this is the mobility aspect, meaning these mobile connected devices are constantly on the move, which complicates things tremendously.

For some time now, mobile operators have been moving away from legacy architectures that deliver basic access to networks that must be built to handle the rich growth of mobile data. Due to their lack of flexibility, cumbersome service creation, and inability to scale economically, legacy architectures have severely limited innovation in the mobile space.

Virtualization is transforming mobile networks from a collection of expensive proprietary boxes to virtualized data and control plane processing in software-defined data centers.  Our solution, called the Affirmed Networks Mobile Content CloudTM is a flexible, scalable, carrier-class virtualized software architecture that provides multiple industry leading innovations. Our innovative solution allows operators to create new services in time frames that are orders of magnitude lower than today’s norm, while giving mobile operators greater flexibility to try new business models and revenue generating services.

Our solution interoperates seamlessly with existing network technology, meaning operators can continue to utilize their existing equipment while pursuing a “cap-and-grow” strategy moving forward. As legacy equipment is retired, more and more functions and services can be shifted to their virtualized network infrastructure.

IT Specialist Following up on the last question, could you also explain what Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is?

Amit Network Functions Virtualization or NFV was an initiative started by the industry intended to address the concerns we’ve expressed about legacy equipment becoming increasing expensive to purchase and burdensomely complicated to maintain from an operational perspective.

The evolution of standard IT virtualization technology into the mobile network enables many of the standard network functions that are defined by the 3GPP (the standards body that covers mobile telecommunications network technologies) to be run using virtualized software on standard, high-volume servers.

By employing NFV, operators can dynamically scale their networks to meet user demands and create new services in timescales impossible previously.

IT Specialist Turning now to your core product Affirmed Mobile Content Cloud, can you explain in a nutshell what it is and what are the additional features and advantages it provides in the cellular data eco-system? As I understand it is a software only solution?

Amit Our solution, called the Affirmed Mobile Content Cloud, enables the integration of multiple network services into a single solution, as well as the common orchestration of internal and external third party services.

The Affirmed Mobile Content Cloud also enables operators to take advantage of industry-leading performance and resiliency in a cost-effective cloud ecosystem. This innovation allows operators to deploy fully virtualized EPC, turn up Gi Services, launch Machine-to-Machine (M2M) networks, and extend new service capabilities to Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) in record time, thereby enabling new revenue streams.

By being hardware agnostic, The Affirmed Networks Mobile Content Cloud™ overcomes major challenges mobile operators face in economically scaling their next-generation networks to meet subscriber usage demands. Increased CAPEX in a declining ARPU environment is a non-starter. Hence the near universal appeal and traction of NFV and the success of the Affirmed Mobile Content Cloud as a commercially available leading NFV based solution for Mobile Operators.

IT Specialist Not to get too geeky, but can you provide a brief overview of how IP data packets would move through a network that uses the Affirmed Mobile Content Cloud? Feel free to add any diagrams that can help us visualize this! 

Amit The diagrams below depicts the packet data flow in legacy networks compared to a virtualized network with the Affirmed Mobile Content Cloud. What’s immediately obvious are the sheer number of network elements and hence network hops that are involved in the legacy approach. The operational burden of integrating these networks is caused by interoperability between all of this hardware, as well as system management issues like software and hardware upgrades increases exponentially with additional nodes. Should the interoperability between any of these elements fail, it could cause the entire service to fail or an operator may not be charging appropriately for user sessions – thereby impacting the end user experience or operator ability to monetize services.

With the Affirmed Mobile Content Cloud, these standard network elements are instantiated within virtual machines within a virtualized architecture running on standard hardware. By simplifying the network through virtualization, the packet processing overhead involved in negotiating sessions between hardware nodes and from different vendors is completely eliminated. Processing power can be better utilized for session management, which is operationally more efficient and more profitable.

IT Specialist How easy is the Mobile Content Cloud to manage for the engineering and network design teams that would actually be responsible for it on a day to day basis? How long does it take a network team to implement your solution?

Amit We employ a system called the Acuitas Service Management System, which is a standards-based, web-based management system that our customers’ operations engineers use to navigate, monitor, and manage the Affirmed Mobile Content Cloud.

The system’s user interface intuitively depicts a service-level view that provides technicians and managers the ability to monitor faults, alarms, performance, and statistics; provision and configure services; and perform software updates.

Many of our mobile operator contacts have updated us of past management systems that are node based and manage physical elements that are extremely cumbersome to use, requiring operations’ engineers to know dozens of API command codes to use properly. This proves to be a complete operational nightmare versus the Affirmed service based, intuitive approach of creating, orchestrating and monetizing services.

The Acuitas Service Management System in many ways parallels our whole approach of simplification, speed, and flexibility – all of which has received high marks from operators who have deployed or trialed our solution.

IT Specialist Looking at the mobile market at a high level, have you found that most operators have already begun to move their infrastructure beyond their traditional physical network or not yet? What has been the overall reception to your solution in the market?

Amit By virtualizing network functions with Affirmed Networks’ technology and utilizing existing data center infrastructure or a hosted cloud environment, mobile operators that we work with are dropping the cost per byte to a fraction of that with a traditional network architecture.

Of course, real network ROI is more than just deploying NFV. Our approach lowers CAPEX by utilizing standard hardware and existing network infrastructure. It reduces OPEX by simplifying network operations and decreasing expenses, such as energy, data center space requirement, and staffing.

Earlier this year, Affirmed Networks was named as a vendor for AT&T’s Virtualized Evolved Packet Core (EPC) as part of its Domain 2.0 supplier program. AT&T is the first Tier 1 operator to publicly announce its relationship with the company. In addition to AT&T, we are currently engaged in many commercial deployments around the world, many in Tier 1 networks, and many more trials worldwide.

IT Specialist Turning now to the corporate level, can you tell us how much money Affirmed Networks has raised and who your core investors are?

Amit Affirmed Networks is backed by venture capital investors Charles River Ventures, Matrix Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, KCK Group, and Lightspeed Venture Partners. Altogether, the company has raised more than $100 million in funding.

IT Specialist Finally, for people who may be interested in testing the Affirmed Networks solution or beginning a dialogue with you, what is the best way for them to start working with you?

Please contact info@affirmednetworks.com, Phone +1-978-268-0800

IT Specialist Thank you for speaking to us Amit, and best of luck going forward.

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