Out with the old, in with the new

From legacy to cloud. Who is the company taking over Ericsson's booth at MWC?

It’s almost like a metaphor. One of the grandees of mobile networking decides that it would rather not take what it sees as the current health risk of attending the industry’s biggest event. Its stand is then snapped up within a few days by a newbie upstart extolling the benefits of public cloud.

The space will be collaborative, full of partners from the public cloud ecosystem.  If you’re in, of, for or about the public cloud, you can come and play. Good things will happen. We’ll show these old-timers what can be achieved by a little will power and some can-do spirit. It’s almost too good.

That’s what has happened at Mobile World Congress as Ericsson’s 6,000 square metre stand has been snapped up by a start-up consultancy, with a single-digit staff payroll, called TelcoDR.

Ericsson’s withdrawal became public at the start of the week. The company said it wasn’t in a position to take the health risk of sending its international staff to the event. It has since been joined by Nokia.

On Wednesday, TelcoDR’s founder and CEO Danielle Royston (the company name is semi-eponymous) posted on LinkedIn, notifying the GSMA that if Ericsson didn’t want its space, then she would take it. The GSMA’s commercial supremo John Hoffman responded almost immediately. Two days later a deal is done.

There’s your “speed of web innovation” metaphor.

Royston immediately started asking public cloud-aligned companies to get involved. She has said that she will use the space to “show telco how public cloud is done!“. In later Tweets she said, “There are two ways to look at this – there are the legacy guys who don’t have much to say anyway and it is easier for them to be conservative and wait until everyone else returns and sit out this MWC……and then there are those of us on a mission to drive huge change. We are projecting forward 90 days and can see that there will be tens of thousands of people ready to reboot and get going and MWC is a great place to do that.”

There’s your “cloud collaboration platform” metaphor.

TMN understands that the GSMA was willing to let the space go on, shall we say, reasonable terms. And why wouldn’t it? It’s highly likely that as Ericsson cancelled it will have pay the GSMA for the space*, so the GSMA’s incentive would not necessarily be financial. As Nokia and Sony dropped out (and TMN understands there are more to come), the organisation would certainly welcome the optics of someone showing positivity around the event.

“We won’t let you down,” said Hoffman in a further LinkedIn post, once the deal had been done.

And so who or what is TelcoDR? Well, the company was founded in Q4 2020 by Royston, who was most recently CEO of billing software company Optiva. Royston left the company last year amidst a bitter boardroom battle for ownership of the company between ESW Capital, a private investment company that also owns telco software company Zephyrtel, and two Canadian investment funds.

Royston claims that TelcoDR is not backed by ESW and is “not under their umbrella”, although she remains on good terms with the company, and she does her recruitment using its Crossover platform. An SEC share issue form states that she raised $5 million from a single investor in October last year.

Speaking to TMN in February, Royston said  she is “half way through” filling twelve sales positions, on three tiers of seniority. The LinkedIn company page says there are eight employees. One hire is Robin Langdon, who left cloud-BSS company Matrixx in July last year. Langdon is TelcoDR’s EVP of Product and is joined from Matrixx by Daniel Wheaton. There are three names that have joined from Optiva: Mark Crouse, VP Operations, James Sidey, Chief of Staff, and Sudhanshu Sinha, listed as Executive VP.

So is the plan to remain a consultancy, or is TelcoDR a staging post to a launch of something else, something more productised? Royston used a video advertisement on TelecomTV’s recent DSP Leaders World Forum online conference to extol the benefits of a cloud-based charging company called Totogi. Totogi is in stealth mode and there are few clues to its identity. Her PR agency told TMN: “TelcoDR can’t disclose details about its relationship with Totogi at the moment.”

In an interview with TMN, Royston said that she had formed TelcoDR as a “consultancy focussed on helping telco execs learn about, start and optimise the move to public cloud.” She is convinced that it is inevitable that the large majority of telco IT software will move to the public cloud, and she’s pretty bullish about network functions benefitting from cloud economics as well. 

Although she describes networking departments as having a “stranglehold” on decision making and adds that the  majority currently “won’t even consider it” [public cloud for network functions], she says that chip developments and economics could bring even the RAN to public cloud, perhaps in 5-10 years.

Wherever Royston plans to take TelcoDR, and whatever its end form might be, the image of a cloud start-up, ambitious, energetic and noisy, taking over a cornerstone space from a 140 year old telco vendor is a striking one. Royston herself is well aware of it, and there will be more noise to come in the weeks and months between now and MWC.

(*Its rebooking from the cancelled 2020 event would have been at a significant discount. The GSMA’s public offer was a 65% reduction for the first year of a re-booking commitment)