Dave Williams, until recently SVP of Wireless at Comcast, has now taken up the position of CTO at Stoke. Why did he move and what future does he envisage for his new employer? Here he shares his (slightly controversial) views about the change in approach to data equipment at operators, Stoke’s focus on 4G/LTE and what he thinks of Wi-Fi network solutions available today.
How did your move to Stoke come about?
In 2008, after a period of working in Europe as CTO for Telefonica, my family and I wanted to return to the US and I looked for a suitable startup company to join. There were a couple of opportunities, but the state of the economy meant it wasn’t a good time for startups at that time.
At the same time, Comcast was looking for someone with similar skills and it was a good match. I’ve stayed for 3 years and found it to be a great company, an amazing business and successful in all types of access.
However, I still wanted to move to a startup and initially met with Stoke at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February earlier this year. I left Comcast under a good light and the transition has gone well.
A change of view from operators buying data equipment
3G core network components are struggling to keep up with the massive growth in data traffic, to the extent that network operators have had to buy far more core equipment (SGSN and GGSN boxes) than ever expected. The performance of this equipment drops further when any new features are added. While some of these systems are branded as 4G, they are simply not architected to handle the 10x data traffic growth in capacity. This has left a “bad taste in the mouth” of those who bought these systems.
I believe that this experience has changed the view of those procuring systems for the next generation. Instead of buying turnkey solutions, they are seeking “best in class” products from different suppliers.
4G traffic levels will be much greater than 3G
There’s no doubt that data traffic is growing as many forecast – evidence of 2Gbyte/month average use of PC dongles, Clearwire [the US WiMax network] averaging 9Gbytes/month. With 4G, which will support video properly, systems need to be designed for traffic volumes of at least 16GBytes/month per user.
As the industry prepares to launch 4G/LTE around the world, I’ve spoken with some operators who do want to put all their data traffic through a secure IPsec tunnel from the eNodeB (4G cellsite) and the core network. Others are more selective, and want the system to adapt to encrypt only certain types of traffic. (The signalling traffic itself is already encrypted.)
This requires equipment that is architected from the ground up for these kinds of traffic throughput, rather than evolved or adapted from earlier generations.
What do Stoke offer?
Stoke have built a 4G platform, rather than a 3G one. This can operate as a security gateway [which terminates IPsec tunnels] but is very flexible and adaptable to provide other functions through software.
This equipment – known as an ePDG (Evolved Packet Data Gateway) in the 3GPP standard for LTE – is a critical component handling vast amounts of data traffic. Our product is already in live in commercial LTE networks and proven to scale to high traffic levels. as a small startup, we are already successful.
We don’t currently play in the 3G femtocell market, and are focussed on LTE/4G and small cells.
As a strong proponent of Wi-Fi at Comcast, have you changed your view?
Network operators simply don’t have enough spectrum to ignore the 40MHz that Wi-Fi offers. This is why I still think that all operators will want to use Wi-Fi as much as possible.
Ideally this would appear to the consumer as just another seamless/trusted wireless connection. However end-to-end Wi-Fi is extremely complex, with issues of policy management, security/encryption and compression to name a few. I don’t believe anybody does a really great job in providing an end-to-end Wi-Fi solution today – this is still a challenge to be cracked. Frankly, I’ve been underwhelmed with what solution providers have offered so far.
Perhaps this has been because the bigger players are schizophrenic when assembling their Wi-Fi solutions – do they partner or wait for their own internal solution to be developed?
But at the end of the day, network operators know what they want and will work with the usual suspects [the system integrators].
Here at Stoke, we’ve chosen to partner with others and are willing to work with anybody to create that solution.
And finally, what’s your view of femtocells?
I don’t discount femtocells as part of the wider mix of solutions. There just isn’t enough bandwidth, so all options are required. People want wireless and don’t much care how it’s provided. They do care about the speed, quality and cost.
Because operators are considering Wi-Fi, small cells and femtocells to meet capacity demands for both 3G and 4G networks, we think our Security eXchange could become an lynchpin component, providing common secure edge for a converged mobile core. Stoke’s Security eXchange is already deployed in a 3G Femtocell solution.