If you never heard of Affirmed Networks before yesterday, you’re not alone.
The company doesn’t have its own booth at Mobile World Congress, but it does have a network functions virtualization (NFV) demo that’s in the HP booth. After Monday, when AT&T named Affirmed as a Domain 2.0 supplier for a virtualized evolved packet core (EPC), that little demo stand got a lot of attention.
“I found out what it’s like to be filmed,” said David Bastiani, a member of Affirmed’s technical marketing staff. Bastiani — who didn’t know about AT&T’s release until he was on the way to MWC Tuesday morning — ended up manning the demo alone, as other Affirmed executives were suddenly swamped with meeting requests. He spent the day inundated.
In addition to hosting those TV crews (there are a lot of them at this show), Bastiani also got to fend off competitors who innocently wandered by to ask things like, “Is it real?” One was there when I approached Affirmed’s station, in fact, fishing for information in an conversation with a lot of long pauses.
But one thing Affirmed will talk about is why it got AT&T’s attention. It’s pretty simple: Affirmed claims its virtual EPC is already running production traffic on some LTE networks. The company isn’t saying which ones.
Unlike AlcaLu and Ericsson, though, Affirmed isn’t offering the entire EPC. Affirmed is offering the serving gateway (usually called the S-gateway), the packet data network gateway (P-gateway), and, for supporting 3G traffic, the gateway GPRS support node (GGSN).
For pieces that are left, such as the mobility management entity (MME) or home subscriber server (HSS), Affirmed would rely on partners. Another piece of the EPC is a policy and charging rules function (PCRF) — a policy server, in other words. Affirmed’s software can handle lightweight policy, but a production environment would probably call for a proper PCRF.
There’s nothing wrong with doing it this way, but it does give the bigger companies a way to separate their work from Affirmed’s. “We’re trying to build a full, tier-1” packet core, says Manish Gulyani, AlcaLu’s vice president of product marketing.
Affirmed’s selection might have served another purpose, too. AT&T wants its Domain 2.0 program to signal that the carrier is willing to work with startups. The selections of Affirmed, Ericsson, Metaswitch, and Tail-f represented companies that “stepped up to the challenge and left history and legacy behind,” AT&T CTO John Donovan said at an Ericsson event Tuesday night.