FloLive, an IoT startup building cloud-based private 5G networks, raises $15M led by Intel

As enterprises and carriers gear up for operating and scaling IoT services and monitoring the activity of their devices, machines and more globally, a startup that is building technology to make this easier and cheaper to implement is announcing some funding.

FloLive, which has built a cloud-based solution to stitch together private, local cellular networks to create private global IoT 5G networks for its customers, has raised $15 million, funding that it will be using to continue expanding its service, both through investing and building out its tech stack, upgrading its network to 5G where it’s being used, and building a global SIM2Cloud offering in partnership with an as-yet unnamed global cloud provider.

Intel Capital, the investment arm of the chip giant, is leading the investment, with Qualcomm Ventures, Dell Technologies Capital, 83North and Saban Ventures also participating. Intel, Qualcomm and Dell are all strategic backers here: the three work with carriers and enterprises to power and manage services and devices, and this will give them potentially a better way of integrating a much more flexible, global technology and network to provision those services more seamlessly across different geographies.

This is an extension to a $21.5 million round that London-based FloLive raised last year, bringing the total for the Series B to $36.5 million. From what we understand, the startup is also now working on its Series C.

As we move towards more ubiquitous 5G networks and services that use them, the challenge in the market that FloLive is addressing is a critical one to get right.

In a nutshell, enterprises and carriers that are building networks for managing IoT and other connected devices face a scaling issue. Typically, IoT networks to cover services like these are built on national or even more localized footprints, making it a challenge — if not completely impossible — to control or monitor devices in a global network in a centralized way.

“If you look on high level at tier one networks, you see two main things,” Nir Shalom, FloLive’s CEO, said in an interview. “These networks are built for local footprints, and they are mainly built for consumers. What we do is different in that we think about the global, not local, footprint; and our data networks are for IoT, not only people.”

Of course there are some carriers that might look at building their own networks to rival this, but they will often lack the scaled use cases to do so, and may in any case work with providers like FloLive to build these anyway. The bigger picture is that there are 900 larger mobile network operators globally, Shalom said, and the majority of that group is far from being able to do this themselves.

FloLive’s approach to fixing this is not to build completely new infrastructure, but to stitch together networks from different localities and to run them as a single network. It does this by way of its software-defined connectivity built and implemented in the cloud, which stitches together not just 5G networks but whatever cellular technology happens to be in use (eg 4G, 3G or even 2G) in a particular locale.

FloLive’s tech lives in the core network, where it builds a private radio access network that it can integrate with carriers and their capacity in different markets, while then managing the network for customers as a single service.

This is somewhat similar to what you might get with a enterprise virtual private network except that this is focused specifically on the kinds of use cases that might use connected objects — FloLive cites manufacturing, logistics, healthcare and utilities as four areas — rather than laptops for employees.

The resulting network, however, also becomes a viable alternative for companies that might otherwise use a VPN for connectivity, too, as well as carriers themselves needing to extend their network for a customer. In addition to its IoT focused core network, it also provides business support systems for IoT, device management, and solutions targeted for specific verticals. FloLive supports devices that use SIM or eSIM or “softSIM” technology to connect to networks. That’s one part that likely interested those strategic investors as it allows for significantly easier integration.

“We are truly excited about floLIVE’s unique cloud-native approach to IoT connectivity,” said David Johnson, MD at Intel Capital, in a statement. “Cloud-native architectures bring efficiency, scalability and flexibility which are important for IoT services. In addition, floLIVE’s cloud-based core can provide consistency of features across many independent private and public networks. We look forward to the expansion of floLIVE’s products and services enabled by this investment.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Qualcomm Ventures invests in four 5G startups

Qualcomm Ventures, Qualcomm’s investment arm, today announced four new strategic investments in 5G-related startups. These companies are private mobile network specialist Celona, mobile network automation platform Cellwize, the edge computing platform Azion and Pensando, another edge computing platform that combines its software stack with custom hardware.

The overall goal here is obviously to help jumpstart 5G use cases in the enterprise and — by extension — for consumers by investing in a wide range of companies that can build the necessary infrastructure to enable these.

“We invest globally in the wireless mobile ecosystem, with a goal of expanding our base of customers and partners — and one of the areas we’re particularly excited about is the area of 5G,” Quinn Li, a Senior VP at Qualcomm and the global head of Qualcomm Ventures, told me. “Within 5G, there are three buckets of areas we look to invest in: one is in use cases, second is in network transformation, third is applying 5G technology in enterprises.”

So far, Qualcomm Ventures has invested over $170 million in the 5G ecosystem, including this new batch. The firm did not disclose how much it invested in these four new startups, though.

Overall, this new set of companies touches upon the core areas Qualcomm Ventures is looking at, Li explained. Celona, for example, aims to make it as easy for enterprises to deploy private cellular infrastructure as it is to deploy Wi-Fi today.

“They built this platform with a cloud-based controller that leverages the available spectrum — CBRS — to be able to take the cellular technology, whether it’s LTE or 5G, into enterprises,” Li explained. “And then these enterprise use cases could be in manufacturing settings could be in schools, could be to be in hospitals, or it could be on campus for universities.”

Cellwize, meanwhile, helps automate wireless networks to make them more flexible and manageable, in part by using machine learning to tune the network based on the data it collects. One of the main investment theses for this fund, Li told me, is that wireless technology will become increasingly software-defined and Cellwize fits right into this trend. The potential customer here isn’t necessarily an individual enterprise, though, but wireless and mobile operators.

Edge computing, where Azion and Pensando play, is obviously also a hot category right now and when where 5G has some obvious advantages, so it’s maybe no surprise that Qualcomm Ventures is putting a bit of a focus on these today with its investments in Azion and Pensando.

“As we move forward, [you will] see a lot of the compute moving from the cloud into the edge of the network, which allows for processing happening at the edge of the network, which allows for low latency applications to run much faster and much more efficiently,” Li said.

In total, Qualcomm Ventures has deployed $1.5 billion and made 360 investments since its launch in 2000. Some of the more successful companies the firm has invested in include unicorns like Zoom, Cloudflare, Xiaomi, Cruise Automation and Fitbit.


By Frederic Lardinois

Cellwize raises $32M to help carriers and their partners adopt and run 5G services

As 5G slowly moves from being a theoretical to an active part of the coverage map for the mobile industry — if not for consumers themselves — companies that are helping carriers make the migration less painful and less costly are seeing a boost of attention.

In the latest development, Cellwize, a startup that’s built a platform to automate and optimize data for carriers to run 5G networks within multi-vendor environments, has raised $32 million — funding that it will use to continue expanding its business into more geographies and investing in R&D to bring more capabilities to its flagship CHIME platform.

The funding is notable because of the list of strategic companies doing the investing, as well as because of the amount of traction that Cellwize has had to date.

The Series B round is being co-led Intel Capital and Qualcomm Ventures LLC, and Verizon Ventures (which is part of Verizon, which also owns TechCrunch by way of Verizon Media) and Samsung Next, with existing shareholders also participating. That list includes Deutsche Telekom and Sonae, a Portuguese conglomerate that owns multiple brands in retail, financial services, telecoms and more.

That backing underscores Cellwize’s growth. The company — which is based in Israel with operations also in Dallas and Singapore — says it currently provides services to some 40 carriers (including Verizon, Telefonica and more), covering 16 countries, 3 million cell sites, and 800 million subscribers.

Cellwize is not disclosing its valuation but it has raised $56.5 million from investors to date.

5G holds a lot of promise for carriers, their vendors, handset makers and others in the mobile ecosystem: the belief is that faster and more efficient speeds for wireless data will unlock a new wave of services and usage and revenues from services for consumers and business, covering not just people but IoT networks, too.

Notwithstanding the concerns some have had with health risks, despite much of that theory being debunked over the years, one of the technical issues with 5G has been implementing it.

Migrating can be costly and laborious, not least because carriers will likely be running hybrid systems in the Radio Access Network (RAN, which controls how devices interface with carriers’ networks), where they will be managing legacy networks (eg, 2G, 3G, 4G, LTE) alongside 5G, and working with multiple vendors within 5G itself.

Cellwize positions its CHIME platform — which works as an all-in-one tool that covers configuring new 5G networks, optimizing and monitoring data on them, and also providing APIs for third-party developers to integrate with it — as the bridge to letting carriers operate in the more open-shop approach that is afforded by the move to 5G.

“While large companies have traditionally been more dominant in the RAN market, 5G is changing the landscape for how the entire mobile industry operates,” said Ofir Zemer, Cellwize’s CEO. “These traditional vendors usually offer solutions which plug into their own equipment, while not allowing third parties to connect, and this creates a closed and limited ecosystem. [But] the large operators also are not interested in being tied to one vendor: not technology-wise and not on the business side – as they identify this as an inhibitor to their own innovation.”

Cellwize provides an open platform that allows a carrier to plan, deploy and manage the RAN in that kind of multi-vendor ecosystem. “We have seen an extremely high demand for our solution and as 5G rollouts continue to increase globally, we expect the demand for our product will only continue to grow,” he added.

Previously, Zemer said that carriers would build their own products internally to manage data in the RAN, but these “struggle to support 5G.”

The competition element is not just lip service: the fact that both Intel and Qualcomm — competitors in key respects — are investing in this round underscores how Cellwize sees itself as a kind of Switzerland in mobile architecture. It also underscores that both view easy and deep integrations with its tech as something worth backing, given the priorities of each of their carrier customers.

“Over the last decade, Intel technologies have been instrumental in enabling the communications industry to transform networks with an agile and scalable infrastructure,” said David Flanagan, VP and senior MD at Intel Capital, in a statement. “With the challenges in managing the high complexity of radio access networks, we are encouraged by the opportunity in front of Cellwize to explore ways to utilize their AI-based automation capabilities as Intel brings the benefits of cloud architectures to service provider and private networks.”

“Qualcomm is at the forefront of 5G expansion, creating a robust ecosystem of technologies that will usher in the new era of connectivity,” added Merav Weinryb, Senior Director of Qualcomm Israel Ltd. and MD of Qualcomm Ventures Israel and Europe. “As a leader in RAN automation and orchestration, Cellwize plays an important role in 5G deployment. We are excited to support Cellwize through the Qualcomm Ventures’ 5G global ecosystem fund as they scale and expedite 5G adoption worldwide.”

And that is the key point. Right now there are precious few 5G deployments, and sometimes, when you read some the less shiny reports of 5G rollouts, you might be forgiven for feeling like it’s more marketing than reality at this point. But Zemer — who is not a co-founder (both of them have left the company) but has been with it since 2013, almost from the start — is sitting in on the meetings with carriers, and he believes that it won’t be long before all that tips.

“Within the next five years, approximately 75% of mobile connections will be powered by 5G, and 2.6 billion 5G mobile subscriptions will be serving 65% of the world’s population,” he said. “While 5G technology holds a tremendous amount of promise, the reality is that it is also hyper-complex, comprised of multiple technologies, architectures, bands, layers, and RAN/vRAN players. We are working with network operators around the world to help them overcome the challenges of rolling out and managing these next generation networks, by automating their entire RAN processes, allowing them to successfully deliver 5G to their customers.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Latent AI makes edge AI workloads more efficient

Latent AI, a startup that was spun out of SRI International, makes it easier to run AI workloads at the edge by dynamically managing workloads as necessary.

Using its proprietary compression and compilation process, Latent AI promises to compress library files by 10x and run them with 5x lower latency than other systems, all while using less power thanks to its new adaptive AI technology, which the company is launching as part of its appearance in the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield competition today.

Founded by CEO Jags Kandasamy and CTO Sek Chai, the company has already raised a $6.5 million seed round led by Steve Jurvetson of Future Ventures and followed by Autotech Ventures .

Before starting Latent AI, Kandasamy sold his previous startup OtoSense to Analog Devices (in addition to managing HPE Mid-Market Security business before that). OtoSense used data from sound and vibration sensors for predictive maintenance use cases. Before its sale, the company worked with the likes of Delta Airlines and Airbus.

Image Credits: Latent AI

In some ways, Latent AI picks up some of this work and marries it with IP from SRI International .

“With OtoSense, I had already done some edge work,” Kandasamy said. “We had moved the audio recognition part out of the cloud. We did the learning in the cloud, but the recognition was done in the edge device and we had to convert quickly and get it down. Our bill in the first few months made us move that way. You couldn’t be streaming data over LTE or 3G for too long.”

At SRI, Chai worked on a project that looked at how to best manage power for flying objects where, if you have a single source of power, the system could intelligently allocate resources for either powering the flight or running the onboard compute workloads, mostly for surveillance, and then switch between them as needed. Most of the time, in a surveillance use case, nothing happens. And while that’s the case, you don’t need to compute every frame you see.

“We took that and we made it into a tool and a platform so that you can apply it to all sorts of use cases, from voice to vision to segmentation to time series stuff,” Kandasamy explained.

What’s important to note here is that the company offers the various components of what it calls the Latent AI Efficient Inference Platform (LEIP) as standalone modules or as a fully integrated system. The compressor and compiler are the first two of these and what the company is launching today is LEIP Adapt, the part of the system that manages the dynamic AI workloads Kandasamy described above.

Image Credits: Latent AI

In practical terms, the use case for LEIP Adapt is that your battery-powered smart doorbell, for example, can run in a low-powered mode for a long time, waiting for something to happen. Then, when somebody arrives at your door, the camera wakes up to run a larger model — maybe even on the doorbell’s base station that is plugged into power — to do image recognition. And if a whole group of people arrives at ones (which isn’t likely right now, but maybe next year, after the pandemic is under control), the system can offload the workload to the cloud as needed.

Kandasamy tells me that the interest in the technology has been “tremendous.” Given his previous experience and the network of SRI International, it’s maybe no surprise that Latent AI is getting a lot of interest from the automotive industry, but Kandasamy also noted that the company is working with consumer companies, including a camera and a hearing aid maker.

The company is also working with a major telco company that is looking at Latent AI as part of its AI orchestration platform and a large CDN provider to help them run AI workloads on a JavaScript backend.


By Frederic Lardinois

Extra Crunch Live: Join Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg for a live Q&A today at 2pm EDT/11am PDT

As the leader of a publicly traded corporation with 135,000 employees, Verizon Communications CEO Hans Vestberg has a unique perspective on the state of the world.

When he appears today on Extra Crunch Live, our virtual speaker series for Extra Crunch members, we’ll ask him about this extraordinary moment in history and his plans for seeing the company through a black swan event that’s reshaping the global economy.

The discussion starts at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT/9 p.m. GMT. You can find the full details below.

Vestberg served as president and CEO at Ericsson for six years and joined Verizon as its CTO and president of Global Networks in 2017 before stepping into the CEO role a little more than a year later. (Disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon).

We’ll talk to Vestberg about his tactics for managing a company at scale through a crisis and will check in on the company’s 5G rollout, a platform inflection point that should change the landscape for founders and entrepreneurs. Verizon recently acquired BlueJeans, which competes directly with Zoom and WebEx, so we’ll also ask Vestberg about the company’s forward-looking investment strategy.

Extra Crunch members are encouraged to ask their own questions during the Zoom call, so please come prepared. If you’re not already a member, sign up on the cheap right here.

You can also check out the full Extra Crunch Live schedule here.

See you soon!


By Jordan Crook

Microsoft launches Edge Zones for Azure

Microsoft today announced the launch of Azure Edge Zones, which will allow Azure users to bring their applications to the company’s edge locations. The focus here is on enabling real-time low-latency 5G applications. The company is also launching a version of Edge Zones with carriers (starting with AT&T) in preview, which connects these zones directly to 5G networks in the carrier’s data center. And to round it all out, Azure is also getting Private Edge Zones for those who are deploying private 5G/LTE networks in combination with Azure Stack Edge.

In addition to partnering with carriers like AT&T, as well as Rogers, SK Telecom, Telstra and Vodafone, Microsoft is also launching new standalone Azure Edge Zones in more than 10 cities over the next year, starting with L.A., Miami and New York later this summer.

“For the last few decades, carriers and operators have pioneered how we connect with each other, laying the foundation for telephony and cellular,” the company notes in today’s announcement. “With cloud and 5G, there are new possibilities by combining cloud services, like compute and AI with high bandwidth and ultra-low latency. Microsoft is partnering with them bring 5G to life in immersive applications built by organization and developers.”

This may all sound a bit familiar and that’s because only a few weeks ago, Google launched Anthos for Telecom and its Global Mobile Edge Cloud, which at first glance offers a similar promise of bringing applications close to that cloud’s edge locations for 5G and telco usage. Microsoft argues that its offering is more comprehensive in terms of its partner ecosystem and geographic availability. But it’s clear that 5G is a trend all of the large cloud providers are trying to tap into. Microsoft’s own acquisition of 5G cloud specialist Affirmed Networks is yet another example of how it is looking to position itself in this market.

As far as the details of the various Edge Zone versions go, the focus of Edge Zones is mostly on IoT and AI workloads, while Microsoft notes that Edge Zones with Carriers is more about low-latency online gaming, remote meetings and events, as well as smart infrastructure. Private Edge Zones, which combine private carrier networks with Azure Stack Edge, is something only a small number of large enterprise companies is likely to look into, given the cost and complexity of rolling out a system like this.

 


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft acquires 5G specialist Affirmed Networks

Microsoft today announced that it has acquired Affirmed Networks, a company that specializes in fully virtualized, cloud-native networking solutions for telecom operators.

With its focus on 5G and edge computing, Affirmed looks like the ideal acquisition target for a large cloud provider looking to get deeper into the telco business. According to Crunchbase, Affirmed had raised a total of $155 million before this acquisition and the company’s over 100 enterprise customers include the likes of AT&T, Orange, Vodafone, Telus, Turkcell and STC.

“As we’ve seen with other technology transformations, we believe that software can play an important role in helping advance 5G and deliver new network solutions that offer step-change advancements in speed, cost and security,” writes Yousef Khalidi, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Azure Networking. “There is a significant opportunity for both incumbents and new players across the industry to innovate, collaborate and create new markets, serving the networking and edge computing needs of our mutual customers.”

With its customer base, Affirmed gives Microsoft another entry point into the telecom industry. Previously, the telcos would often build their own data centers and stuff it with costly proprietary hardware (and the software to manage it). But thanks to today’s virtualization technologies, the large cloud platforms are now able to offer the same capabilities and reliability without any of the cost. And unsurprisingly, a new technology like 5G with its promise of new and expanded markets makes for a good moment to push forward with these new technologies.

Google recently made some moves in this direction with its Anthos for Telecom and Global Mobile Edge Cloud, too. Chances are, we will see all of the large cloud providers continue to go after this market in the coming months.

In a somewhat odd move, only yesterday Affirmed announced a new CEO and President, Anand Krishnamurthy. It’s not often that we see these kinds of executive moves hours before a company announces its acquisition.

The announcement doesn’t feature a single hint at today’s news and includes all of the usual cliches we’ve come to expect from a press release that announces a new CEO. “We are thankful to Hassan for his vision and commitment in guiding the company through this extraordinary journey and positioning us for tremendous success in the future,” Krishnamurthy wrote at the time. “It is my honor to lead Affirmed as we continue to drive this incredible transformation in our industry.”

We asked Affirmed for some more background about this and will update this post once we hear more.


By Frederic Lardinois

Google Cloud goes after the telco business with Anthos for Telecom and its Global Mobile Edge Cloud

Google Cloud today announced a new solution for its telecom customers: Anthos for Telecom. You can think of this as a specialized edition of Google’s container-based Anthos multi-cloud platform for both modernizing existing applications and building new ones on top of Kubernetes. The announcement, which was originally slated for MWC, doesn’t come as a major surprise, given Google Cloud’s focus on offering very targeted services to its enterprise customers in a number of different verticals.

Given the rise of edge computing and, in the telco business, 5G, Anthos for Telecom makes for an interesting play in what could potentially be a very lucrative market for Google. This is also the market where the open-source OpenStack project has remained the strongest.

What’s maybe even more important here is that Google is also launching a new service called the Global Mobile Edge Cloud (GMEC). With this, telco companies will be able to run their applications not just in Google’s 20+ data center regions, but also in Google’s more than 130 edge locations around the world.

“We’re basically giving you compute power on our edge, where previously it was only for Google use, through the Anthos platform,” explained Eyal Manor, the VP of Engineering for Anthos. “The edge is very powerful and I think we will now see substantially more innovation happening for applications that are latency-sensitive. We’ve been investing in edge compute and edge networking for a long time in Google over the years for the internal services. And we think it’s a fairly unique capability now to open it up for third-party customers.”

For now, Google is only making this available to its teleco partners, with AT&T being the launch customers, but over time, Manor said, it’ll likely open its edge cloud to other verticals, as well. Google also expects to be able to announce other partners in the near future.

As for Anthos for Telecom, Manor notes that this is very much what its customers are asking for, especially now that so many of their new applications are containerized.

“[Anthos] brings the best of cloud-as-a-service to our customers, wherever they are, in multiple environments and provide the lock-in free environment with the latest cloud tools,” explained Manor. “The goal is really to empower developers and operators to move faster in a consistent way, so regardless of where you are, you don’t have to train your technical staff. It works on-premise, it works on GCP and on other clouds. And that’s what we hear from customers — customers really like choice.”

In the telecom industry, those customers also want to get higher up the stack and get consistency between their data centers and the edge — and all of that, of course, is meant to bring down the cost of running these networks and services.

“We don’t want to manage the [technology] we previously invested in for many years because the upgrades were terribly expensive and slow for that. I hear that consistently. And please Google, make this seem like a service in the cloud for us,” Manor said.

For developers, Anthos also promises to provide the same development experience, no matter where the application is deployed — and Google now has an established network of partners that provides both solutions to developers as well as operators around Anthos. To this effect, Google is also launching new partnerships with the Amdocs customer experience platform and Netcracker today.

“We’re excited to unveil a new strategy today to help telecommunications companies innovate and accelerate their digital transformation through Google Cloud,” said Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, in today’s announcement. “By collaborating closely with leading telecoms, partners and customers, we can transform the industry together and create better overall experiences for our users globally.”


By Frederic Lardinois

AT&T signs $2 billion cloud deal with Microsoft

While AWS leads the cloud infrastructure market by wide margin, Microsoft isn’t doing too badly, ensconced firmly in second place, the only other company with double-digit share. Today, it announced a big deal with AT&T that encompasses both Azure cloud and Office 365.

A person with knowledge of the contract pegged the combined deal at a tidy $2 billion, a nice feather in Microsoft’s cloud cap. According to a Microsoft blog post announcing the deal, AT&T has a goal to move most of its non-networking workloads to the public cloud by 2024, and Microsoft just got itself a big slice of that pie, surely one that rivals AWS, Google and IBM (which closed the $34 billion Red Hat deal last week) would dearly have loved to get.

As you would expect, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke of the deal in lofty terms around transformation and innovation. “Together, we will apply the power of Azure and Microsoft 365 to transform the way AT&T’s workforce collaborates and to shape the future of media and communications for people everywhere,” he said in a statement in the blog post announcement.

To that end, they are looking to collaborate on emerging technologies like 5G and believe that by combining Azure with AT&T’s 5G network, the two companies can help customers create new kinds of applications and solutions. As an example cited in the blog post, they could see using the speed of the 5G network combined with Azure AI-powered live voice translation to help first responders communicate with someone who speaks a different language instantaneously.

It’s worth noting that while this deal to bring Office 365 to AT&T’s 250,000 employees is a nice win, that part of the deal falls on the under the SaaS umbrella, so it won’t help with Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure marketshare. Still, any way you slice it, this is a big deal.


By Ron Miller

IBM and Vodafone form cloud, 5G and AI business venture and ink $550M service deal

IBM is one of the world’s biggest system integrators, but to get closer to where enterprises are actually doing their work, it’s been inking partnerships with companies that build devices and run the networks enterprises are using for their IT, and today comes the latest development on that front.

IBM is announcing a new venture with mobile carrier Vodafone, in a deal that will comes in two parts. First, IBM will supply Vodafone’s B2B unit Vodafone Business with managed services in the areas of cloud and hosting. And second, the two will together work on building and delivering solutions in areas like AI, cloud, 5G, IoT and software defined networking to enterprise customers.

The latter part of the deal appears to be a classic JV that will see both sides bringing something to the table — employees from both companies will be moving into a separate office together very soon that will essentially be “neutral” territory. The former part, meanwhile, will see Vodafone paying IBM some $550 million in an eight-year agreement.

That price tag alone is a strong indicator that this deal is a big one for both companies.

The agreement follows along the lines of what IBM inked with Apple several years ago, where the two would work together to develop enterprise solutions that would have been more challenging to do on their own.

Indeed, while IBM does provide systems integration services, it hasn’t moved as deeply into mobile-specific solutions for businesses, even as its other operational units — doing research and other work in AI, cloud, quantum computing and other areas — are making strong headway on specific projects, some of which involve mobile technology. Now that it’s nearly in full possession of RedHat — which it is in the process of buying for $34 billion, a deal that’s now received the approval of RedHat’s shareholders — it will also have open source cloud computing to add to that.

What the Vodafone deal will tap is taking more of those cutting-edge developments that IBM has built and worked on in specific projects, and productise them for a wider audience of businesses and other organisations, which might already be Vodafone customers.

“To deliver multi-cloud strategies in the real world, enterprises need to invest at many levels, ranging from cloud connectivity to cloud governance and management. This new venture between Vodafone and IBM addresses the ‘full stack’ of real-world multi-cloud concerns with a powerful combination of capabilities that should enable customers to deliver multi-cloud strategies in all layers of their organizations,” noted Carla Arend, senior program director for European software at IDC.

The Apple / IBM deal is more than instructive in this case; it will help fuel this new venture. From what I understand, several fruits of that labor will be making their way into the IBM / Vodafone deal, too, which makes sense, considering Vodafone’s position as a mobile carrier and the iPhone making some strong headway into the business market.

“IBM has built industry-leading hybrid cloud, AI and security capabilities underpinned by deep industry expertise,” said IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty in a statement. “Together, IBM and Vodafone will use the power of the hybrid cloud to securely integrate critical business applications, driving business innovation – from agriculture to next- generation retail.”

“Vodafone has successfully established its cloud business to help our customers succeed in a digital world,” said Vodafone CEO Nick Read, in the statement. “This strategic venture with IBM allows us to focus on our strengths in fixed and mobile technologies, whilst leveraging IBM’s expertise in multicloud, AI and services. Through this new venture we’ll accelerate our growth and deepen engagement with our customers while driving radical simplification and efficiency in our business.”

I’ve been told that the first joint “customer engagements” are already happening with an unnamed energy company. Thinking about what kinds of services Vodafone may be providing to end users today — they will cover mobile data and voice connectivity, mobile broadband, IoT and 5G services — this first deal will involve tapping all four, with an emphasis on 5G and IoT.


By Ingrid Lunden

Cisco buys July Systems to bring digital experience to the real world

Customer experience management is about getting to know your customer’s preferences in an online context, but pulling that information into the real world often proves a major challenge for organizations. This results in a huge disconnect when a customer walks into a physical store. This morning, Cisco announced it has bought July Systems, a company that purports to solve that problem.

The companies did not share the acquisition price.

July Systems connects to a building’s WiFi system to understand the customer who just walked in the door, how many times they have shopped at this retailer, their loyalty point score and so forth. This gives the vendor the same kind of understanding about that customer offline as they are used to getting online.

It’s an interesting acquisition for Cisco, taking advantage of some of its strengths as a networking company, given the WiFi component, but also moving in the direction of providing more specific customer experience services.

“Enterprises have an opportunity to take advantage of their in-building Wi-Fi for a broad range of indoor location services. In addition to providing seamless connectivity, Wi-Fi can help enterprises glean deep visitor behavior insights, associate these learnings with their enterprise systems, and drive better customer and employee experiences,” Cisco’s Rob Salvagno wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

As is often the case with these kinds of purchases, the two companies are not strangers. In fact, July Systems lists Cisco as a partner prominently on the company website (along with AWS). Customers include an interesting variety from Hilton Hotels to the New York Yankees baseball team.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says the acquisition is also about taking advantage of 5G. “July Systems gives Cisco the ability to expand its localization and customer experience management (CXM) capabilities pre-5g and post-5g. The WiFi analytics improve CXM, but more importantly Cisco also gains a robust developer community,” Wang told TechCrunch.

According to reports, the company had over $67 billion in cash as of February. That leaves plenty of money to make investments like this one and the company hasn’t been shy about using their cash horde to buy companies as they try to transform from a pure hardware company to one built on services

In fact, they have made 211 acquisitions over the years, according to data on Crunchbase. In recent years they have made some eye-popping ones like plucking AppDynamics for $3.7 billion just before it was going to IPO in 2017 or grabbing Jasper for $1.4 billion in 2016, but the company has also made a host of smaller ones like today’s announcement.

July Systems was founded back in 2001 and raised almost $60 million from a variety of investors including Sequoia Capital, Intel Capital, CRV and Motorola Solutions. Salvagno indicated the July Systems group will become incorporated into Cisco’s enterprise networking group. The deal is expected to be finalized in the first quarter of fiscal 2019.


By Ron Miller