HPE kept things spicy the week before MWC23 with the news that it is acquiring Athonet.
Athonet is a provider of mobile core network software for private network deployments. A private network core manages and controls the devices connected to the access network, and the services running to them, as well as dealing with handoff to the external macro network. Athonet has an 18 year history and has been seen as a leading company in this corner of the mobile network world, with 2,000 deployments in 4G and 5G.
I write “corner” but private networks are becoming more mainstream than that. Significant players all now see the potential to make significant money by supplying or managing private networks to business customers. That includes the big name public cloud providers, mobile network operators, hardware and network equipment vendors and major Systems Integrators.
There are a few independent providers of core network sotware either wholly or mostly dedicated to private network deployments. Athonet was one. Quortus was another, and it was purchased last year by Ericsson as it beefed up its private network capabilities alongside its other acquisition, Cradlepoint. Others independent core software providers still out there with a private network focus include Druid Software, Attocore, Cumucore and Spanish player Neutroon. Microsoft Azure has the assets it bought with Affirmed and MetaSwitch. Cloud-based player Working Group 2 (WG2) does have a private network offer but is also involved in public network deals.
So what can we make of HPE’s purchase? Well, first off, it’s a sign that private networks providers see the core as critical part of the overall sales offer. After all, HPE already has a private network offer that it was pushing hard at last year’s MWC, but it sees value in having an end-to-end capability that includes the ability to manage Wi-Fi and cellular.
Its press release said, “The acquisition of Athonet strengthens Aruba’s connected edge portfolio, providing the unique and highly sought-after ability to deliver fully integrated Wi-Fi and private 5G networks. Integration with Aruba Central will enable network managers to administer Wi-Fi and private 5G through a single pane of glass and bring to bear the power of AI-powered insights, workflow automation, and robust security.”
Hardware providers want to sell more edge devices. Having a vertical integration with the core software gives you access to a part of the network that is crucial to the enterprise – managing access control, security, different classes of service from messaging to IOT, critical comms, push-to-talk and so on.
Just this week Dell announced announced Private Wireless solutions that integrate its hardware along with chosen suppliers of RAN and core software. One of these is with Athonet. The companies said, “Dell Private Wireless with Athonet helps small and medium businesses quickly deploy their choice of network architecture, radio vendor or spectrum band for an affordable, easy-to-use private wireless solution.”
Systems Integrators and operators, acting as de facto SIs, can bring in a variety of partners as they need to, but those going for an off-the-shelf play, like the hardware and equipment providers, can get control of a key part of the market if they have an integrated core as part of the cloud-based software stack that they integrate with their infrastructure.
There are a few outstanding questions for next week.
- How does HPE’s acquisition of Athonet change the market?
- Are other independents now going to be picked up, or will the partnership/ecosystem model prevail?
- Who are the likely consolidators, and ecosystem developers?
- If HPE owns Athonet, what happens to the just anounced Dell-Athonet relationship?
- In HPE’s case, as Dean Bubley points out, it also has a large enterprise Wi-Fi business. Where is the crossover between LTE-5G private networks and Wi-Fi, he asks? HPE said, “the combination of Aruba+Athonet now gives us the most complete private 5G and Wi-Fi portfolio in the market” – so it is certainly seeing the advantage in being on both “sides”.