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5 March 2018

MWC 2018: the Software roundup

Below are Riot’s key takeaways from our MWC meetings, presented in our traditional round-up format – to give you a comprehensive taste of the trends on show. As expected, cloud software had a very strong presence at MWC, but network-edge offerings have grown increasingly prominent at the show. The following companies are covered here: Teoco, VMware, Virtuosys, Greenwave, Vasona, Avira, Mycom OSI.

Teoco – Service Assurance, and calls for new IoT network authentication

Telecom software provider Teoco is hoping to become the leader in IoT Service Assurance, with a focus on monitoring the ‘thing’ and not just the network. EVP’s Rob Roy and Hemant Minocha, and VP Service Assurance Solutions Dima Alkin explained that the focus was now moving from the hub or gateway down to the end-device, and that Teoco’s newly expanded testing labs were key to this shift (buying Cetecom’s mobile communications testing services in July).

Likening the advance of IoT networks to a ticket office now having to serve 50,000 peak-hour customers instead of its usual 500, Teoco remembers the impact that the first iPhone had on AT&T’s network quality – and warns that even with 1 new device in 1 market, a network like AT&T’s can struggle, with the scale of the IoT threatening to exponentially heighten that risk.

Teoco proposes that 3GPP networks need to develop a new method for authenticating IoT devices on-wake, as the IoT devices of the future won’t have the processing horsepower and/or the battery reserves to perform the conventional network handshake – used by phones today. The company believes that the IEEE needs to get involved here, in order to define a mechanism – with Teoco planning to assist in this research project.

Hoping to capitalize on the opportunity for IoT network optimization, a current source of a lot of pain for operators, Teoco hopes to sell into markets that are beginning to see the potential damage a surge of IoT devices could do to cells in a network. In the lab side of things, Teoco has seen a tremendous increase in non-consumer device interest, particular in the IIoT. Also promising is a case study with a Japanese OBD dongle, in which Teoco has played an end-to-end role in designing the device itself.

VMware – on-prem Pulse IaaS, for network-edge device telemetry

Likely-soon-to-be-Dell-owner VMware was at MWC, and Riot met with Mimi Spier, the software-house’s VP IoT Business, to discuss its strategy. Currently, VMware defines the IoT in two distinct areas – the Data Plane (including analytics, predictive maintenance, and services), and the Infrastructure Plane (VMware’s traditional virtualization software area).

As such, VMware is currently focused on the infrastructure, looking to push its Pulse IaaS into the market – which was launched in general availability last month. Currently, Pulse is being offered as an on-premises deployment, but the next generation will have to be delivered as SaaS. Spier was keen to stress that it is not a PaaS, and she emphasized that it was an explicit decision not to compete in the Data Plane.

Spier added that current PoC deployments varied in size substantially, but that two of the biggest were from a bank and an automaker. A beta program with Toyota is also in the works, as well as a deployment with Access Communications that will comprise 150,00 CCTV camera, due in the next year.

Using software agents on the gateways, VMware can provide monitoring capabilities for end-device sensors by proxy, using those gateway agents – to provide a single-portal view of device telemetry. VMware has partnerships with ADLink, Eurotech, Dell, and Samsung, among others, with Spier noting that the tech can support over 100k devices per instances.

On that note, Spier clarified that on-prem was ideal for factories that are generating petabytes of data, as those volumes can’t be pushed up to clouds – due to the prohibitive bandwidth costs. Instead, the cloud will support core machine-learning functions, once the data has been sorted by an edge-compute instance. Spier added that utilities are facing similar problems to industrial factories, when it comes to bandwidth – and that some 5G partnership announcements are due.

Virtuosys – distributed mesh computing for rugged deployments

David Rose, VP Sales, bills Virtuosys as a transport agnostic edge software provider, with expertise in ETSI’s Multi Access Edge Computing (MEC – formerly Mobile Edge Computing) project. MWC was the platform on which to promote a new distributed mesh network computing system that scales as you add more nodes to a deployment.

The idea here is to deploy a mesh network that brings both connectivity and compute power to the edge, with the mesh being formed by either wires or wireless. The CPU resources here allow an adopter to run a range of applications that might not be feasible using simpler edge hardware and a cloud application. Rose explained that the company is most interested in getting its software as close to the action as possible, and not just housed in the cell sites.

The main reasons for this are bandwidth costs and bottlenecks, security and data privacy concerns, and latency requirements. In order to boost adoption of its networking software, Virtuosys developed its rugged Edge Development Kit (EDK) – opting to design its own hardware platform because it couldn’t find an off-the-shelf one it liked.

The 64-bit ARM design (a Cavium 8030) is the basis of a commercial version that is due in Q3, which the potential for different boxes to suite different applications or verticals. As an application becomes more compute intensive, Virtuosys envisions a customer just adding more mesh nodes – which also helps increase the network’s self-healing capabilities.

A pilot predictive maintenance project in the UK with Angel Trains is a good example of an application that might require such an architecture, as the train itself can’t rely on having a reliable connection to the rest of the internet to provide the required computational power.

Virtuosys is also providing the Management and Authentication Service (MAS) needed, which could also eventually act as the basis of an app store for other third-party developers to use. The boxes should cost around $500, with the service element being around $5 per month per server.

Greenwave – Wavely connectivity service launched to boost Axon analytics

In the wake of its Wavely launch, a Mobile Virtual Network Enabler (MVNE) service that is part of the Axon Platform, which aims to take the legwork out of setting up your own MVNO system, Greenwave was also showing off its new Axon Predict and AI software – aiming to provide the network-edge services that will fuel applications.

Roger Gregory, VP Product Marketing, explained that Wavely addresses a gap in the market, but noted that Greenwave customers (typically big telcos and utilities) don’t like telling success stories. Currently, Wavely supports devices like ODB dongles, cold-chain asset trackers, and maritime devices – and is combining the software-defined mobile network core with the IoT connectivity component, via SIM card.

The Axon Predict software will then be providing the edge analytics capabilities. A new shipping container-tracking PoC was a good demonstration, with Gregory saying that Greenwave is not an expert in shipping – but is expert in pattern recognition. John Crupi, VP IoT Analytics, said that the Axon Predict agent was doing full-blown analytics, and not simply administering a rules engine.

Crupi also explained how Greenwave is exploring adding TensorFlow to the mix, as a way of training cloud-based Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) machine-learning models to create better models that can be deployed on the edge devices via TensorServe. Crupi said that these models can be prohibitively large for the edge, both in terms of computational requirements and of delivery bandwidth, and that there was a lot of opportunities for edge-to-cloud integrations here. Customers here want out-of-the-box applications.

Vasona – a cloud-streaming business case to bring GPUs to edge

John Reister, Vasona Networks’ VP Marketing and Product Management, explained how the company’s edge-network software could enable GPU-based low-latency processing for mobile and IoT devices. Arising from Vasona’s traffic management software, designed to help improve network performance in congested cells, the new approach could pave the way for moving expensive compute assets to where they are needed – at the network edge, via a cloud-gaming business case.

Another ETSI MEC developer, Reister outlined Vasona’ Edge Breakout system, an evolution on a factory-based PoC last year. This time round, gaming company Liquid Sky is looking to provide a cloud-based mobile video gaming service – using GPUs to render much higher quality video games than the mobile devices could manage, and serve that video to its users.

However, the round-trip latency of such systems have proven problematic for such services in the past, and so Liquid Sky is using those network-edge GPUs to deliver the game content much more quickly – in around 50-100ms, rather than the around 200ms level that provides a frustrating user experience. The business case sees Liquid Sky share some of the monthly subscription revenue with the MNO.

In turn, such a business case should allow an MNO to use those GPUs to support other IoT applications – such as AR/VR, Big Data Analytics, and electronic horizon capabilities for autonomous cars. The key is that the GPUs are being deployed on the Collector Routers, a step behind the RAN, and much closer to the action than a cloud server located in a T1 data center.

This is a very interesting proposition for the MNOs, and while video gaming might be sneered at by some, it is a market that does enjoy spending money. Such cloud-gaming is growing in popularity, and because the MNOs would own the GPUs, it should encourage them to pursue other business opportunities for the hardware.

Avira – antivirus plans for the smart home

Antivirus vendor Avira is hoping to push its new SafeThings service to both consumers and business customers, via a B2C and a B2B initiative. Looking to convert a percentage of its current 80m subscribers, the consumer goal centers around a WiFi gateway that will run the SafeThings software – which will act as a smart gatekeeper for the smart home.

Notably, there won’t be a monthly fee, rather the cost of the service will be included in the initial purchase price. Avira will look to offer optional services on top of this, such as Parental Controls for filtering internet traffic and usage for children, with a freemium component to allow customers to explore what services are actually important to them.

On the B2B side of things, the company is looking to partner with service providers that use CPE devices, such as ISPs and pay TV operators, and integrate SafeThings on those CPE boxes. Andrei Petrus, Director of IoT and Smart Home Security, explained that the two approaches should help it gain ground against other players in this space, such as Norton and Bullguard Dojo, which are mostly focused on the consumer element.

Petrus said that many rivals are just using basic URL filtering, but that Avira’s proposition goes much further – monitoring the device patterns and behavior to work out what is normal, and then taking action if it is detected that an intervention is needed – such as a door lock trying to reach out to a suspect server via video protocols, for instance, or TVs sending data to malicious domains.

However, Petrus stressed that Avira is looking to ensure that this door lock would still be able to function as a door lock, and so isn’t looking to block it from the smart home network entirely. Instead, it would block it from reaching the internet, but still allow it to work – preventing the end-customer from having a very unwelcome user experience.

A particularly interesting part of the system is its automated penetration testing, which Avira carries out when a device is added to a network. It includes looking for weak passwords and usernames, and will return to check in on devices over time. The traffic analysis for anomaly detection is also interesting, but Petrus stressed that the analysis is done in the cloud – so as not to burden the end-device with this computational requirement.

Mycom OSI – cloud-native telco assurance, new subscription model

Our last appointment at MWC was with Mycom OSI, a provider of assurance, automation, and analytics software to CSPs. In the run up to the show, Mycom announced its new Cloud-Native Platform, part of the Experience Assurance and Analytics (EAA) offering, which lets CSP customers subscribe to the service – so that it can be dialed up and down as needed.

The big advantage of the cloud-native approach is that the telcos don’t have to manage that infrastructure themselves, but can still gain all the advantages of running the software platform – for reducing outages, improving operational efficiency, and identifying problems using traffic analytics. Three UK was a flagship adopter of the platform.

Ian Meakin, Head of Marketing, and Neil McKinlay, Producting Marketing Director, explained that Three liked the adaptability of the approach – as the cloud element meant that it was open to choosing other elements in the complete application without having to worry about technical incompatibilities.

This flexibility was valuable to Three, and Mycom is pitching the advantage of being able to run its offerings on any cloud – whether that’s a bare-metal provider, a public cloud, or an internal private cloud. The cloud-based subscription approach also lets customers choose between opex or capex costs, and Mycom has a transitional program for customers looking to adopt the Three model – to migrate them from older infrastructure.

The subscription model also let an unnamed MNO experiment with an enterprise IoT service offering, before deciding whether to commit to a full launch. The cloud platform would have let it fail fast and iterate (or dump it entirely), in a manner that isn’t possible on dedicated hardware.

Meakin and McKinlay explained that the IoT is essentially business as usual for Mycom, with industry chatter and use cases picking up steam. As a business, Mycom thinks it could sell the IoT angle more, but it is currently swamped in other business for its EAA services.

Meakin did note that a utility company was interested in using Mycom’s service assurance to run its own communication networks, and if more of those customers are signed up, it will be interesting to see how the MNOs deal with being cut out of such equations – a trend we have seen emerging elsewhere in the IoT, where the MNOs fear becoming dumb data pipes.