Private wireless growth signals opportunity for edge core provider

Quortus says new investment will enable it to engage at scale with private wireless network opportunity.

Quortus, a company that develops mobile core network software, last week announced it had secured a new funding round, signing a strategic investment from two companies; IoT services company Communications Systems, and telecoms solutions provider cellXion.

Although the companies are not disclosing the scale of the investment, CEO Mark Bole said that the investment is intended to secure significant growth for the company as it attacks the private wireless network market. 

Quortus provides core network software, available as virtual and cloud instances, that manages device and application connectivity within the private network, and out to a mobile operator core or the internet. It works via systems integrators, equipment providers, channel partners, and sometimes mobile network operators.

Bole said the plan is to double the headcount of the 35 person company in a year, and then double that again in the year following, as it rides a growth wave driven by enterprise and industrial demand for private networks. That demand is only emphasised by the moves the likes of Microsoft Azure is making to add cloud software and edge competencies. Quortus “needs the capability to engage with companies at scale”, Bole said. 

The company has worked to productise and commercialise the capabilities it has developed over years of work in 3G and LTE edge core software. That has included designing its software so that it can be deployed in different architectural models to suit business needs. It has also been readying itself for 5G and advanced WiFi networks, and said that it saw its first 5G related revenues from the end of 2019. Regulatory decisions around the world to enable shared spectrum solutions or dedicated local spectrum are also expected to give the private network market a further boost. And NR-U, an unlicensed version of 5G NR is included in 3GPP that is being finalised in July. 

Private networks and the related area of edge computing are attracting a lot of attention at the moment as major NEPs, mobile operators and “webscale” cloud providers converge on the opportunity. Microsoft has added Metaswitch and Affirmed Networks to its Azure business. AWS is developing its Wavelength edge services. Google Cloud is partnering with TIM in Italy on cloud and edge services, for example. Nokia is making a big deal of its enterprise unit and capability to act as a private network and software provider to enterprises. There are a host of other examples of major moves in this area. 

The idea is this – businesses will prefer to have a dedicated private network to which their devices, robots, sensors, vehicles, anything they want to have connected, can attach. That way they can control key performance parameters, as well as security. The other option is to trust to the grand plan of being offered virtual slices of a public wireless network; but this capability is still some way off. 

Such private networks require core network software to manage policy, authentication, and onwards connectivity to a macro mobile core and/or internet or a centralised cloud service. But this core network software doesn’t need to be the fully featured and scaled versions that the likes of Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei and so on provide to mobile operators. There’s room for an optimised version that can run on very light edge compute platforms, right down to being integrated on a small cell with the radio. These versions also enable developers to develop functionality that is specifically suited to private network use cases. 

That’s where companies such as Quortus, and you could add Athonet and Druid Software to the list, come in. As with other software companies, these specialised companies have begun to create different software architecture options – integration on hardware platforms, as virtual instances or as containerised apps. 

Quortus CEO Mark Bole says that the company has moved away from working “leaving to the system integrator or sales director to piece together the parts of the technical solution.”

With the market growing, there’s a move away from technically expert customers to “early majority” customers that want to buy proven product that helps address their requirement.   

“We have a standard set of packages in terms of features and architectures. So we have got two main ways of deploying. The first is a collapsed version – ECX Pack – which is everything in a single instance – an extreme example would be to have the entire core on a radio with a single box installation. Pack may also include features like multicast, which can be important for public safety use cases.

“Then there’s the distributed architecture – ECX Core – which puts the EPC across multiple containers, VMs or even bare metal hardware. That could deploy on ARM/MIPS/x86 in a mix and match scenario; so X86 at the core end and ARM for edge local breakout.”

Bole said the architectural options give flexibility, so that a deployment might see ECX Core on one side, and then Edge for breakout services in the IT integrators domain. The integrator gets look after its data, with the additional benefit of  restricting data centre charges with data traversing across AWS (for example.)  And it may be on premise or in the cloud, or a mix of both.

“Core is the enterprise play where the growth is coming from,” Bole said. He added that we will soon see examples of that growth for Quortus, including one large scale opportunity with a major tech player that he cannot yet give details of.