Femtocell Opinion, comment and reviews

Mavenir acquire ip.access prior to their own IPO

Mavenir Logo 702x336One of the earliest small cell startups has been acquired by Mavenir, complementing their mobile network software portfolio and dramatically enhancing their end-to-end capability.

Mavenir

US-based Mavenir has established itself as software supplier to fixed and mobile networks, primarily in core networks. It benefitted from the switch to IMS (especiialy Voice over IP), supporting VoLTE and Voice over Wi-Fi for many large networks. Previous small cell related acquisitions included Airwide in 2011, who developed Enterprise CDMA small cells used by Sprint. Originally founded in 2005 as Mavenir Systems, they were acquired by Mitel in 2015 and spun out again in 2017. The company employs over 4,000 staff and reports more than 250 telecom service provider customers.

More recently it has been championing the OpenRAN initiative, expanding its software portfolio to address the RAN as well as the core network. Unlike traditional mainstream suppliers, they didn’t develop their own hardware and have based their success on generic platforms. Their software is designed to be fully cloud compatible, following the popular trend in mainstream IT.

Although positioning itself as an open standards software supplier, it received a positive recommendation for its RAN hardware from Vodafone's Head of Network Strategy this week, named as a frontrunner in the Multi-Band Remote Radio Head, Single Band Remote Radio Head, Most efficient energy consumption and portfolio breadth categories. LightReading reports the full story.

Mavenir also announced their own IPO for $100 million yesterday, quoting EBITDA of a similar amount on turnover of $427 million to year end January 2020. Part of their marketing position for the IPO is that they support all mobile network generations from 2G through 5G, for which the ip.access acquisition provides credence. They have been compared with Parallel Wireless, who have championed the term "All G network" for many years. Unlike Mavenir, Parallel Wireless focus only on the RAN. Both companies have their own hardware platforms and also partner with others through OpenRAN standards.

ip.access

UK based ip.access is well known and highly respected throughout the small cell world, having pioneered the concept with their own end-to-end 2G GSM femtocells and controllers. Spun out of TTP in 1999, their portfolio expanded to include 3G, 4G and even 5G. Although primarily targeting the enterprise market, their products have been successfully adapted by system integrators for a wide variety of use cases, from cruise ships, private yachts, aircraft to military purposes. At scale, they are best known for the AT&T 3G Microcell which sold in the millions. Sadly, breakthroughs like that were more rare than forecast and large sales did not materialise, despite years of product development, testing and deployment resulting in winning many industry awards.

Their 2G and 3G solutions are now particularly robust and resilient, with many features that accommodate quirks of working alongside mainstream vendor macrocells. A wide range of diagnostic tools, regression testing and analytics ensures that problems can be quickly identified and resolved.

The company is based just outside Cambridge UK, with a development centre in India. At one time it employed more than 200 staff but had reduced headcount to 115 today. It's current CEO, Richard Staveley, previously at Ubiquisys, joined in 2017 to turn around the business and make it saleable, which he appears to have done.

Next Steps

Mavenir have stated that they especially prize the 2G and 3G RAN software, which will allow them to match other mainstream vendors with a comprehensive 2G/3G/4G/5G portfolio. It is often easy to overlook that more than half the mobile phones in use today worldwide are simple, low cost 2G or 3G rather than the latest 5G iPhones. It’s not just the software product that is being bought. CTO Nick Johnson and his team will need to bring their considerable expertise to bear to adapt the solution to optimise wider area macrocell performance and ensure compatibility/feature parity with mainstream vendors.

The acquisition will also bring  a new set of customers, system integrators and other partners. It will be interesting to watch how these relationships develop and which aspects Mavenir choose to focus on. Mavenir position themselves as a software company, enabling other partners to develop the hardware platforms as part of the OpenRAN initiative. It’s not yet clear to me how they will handle existing ip.access hardware platforms, integrating them into their existing solutions or outsourcing to partners. Within the small cell industry that outsourcing had already happened, with hardware designs commonly being manufactured under licence by ODMs, so perhaps that arrangement will continue even for those not currently OpenRAN compliant.

The financial side of the agreement was not disclosed.

We wish both parties a successful journey ahead.

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