Arm, Vodafone flex their muscles to show Cisco they’re fighting fit on the edge

Telcos won't give up on the dream of becoming enterprise app stores instead of dumb data pipes

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Arm and Vodafone Group have flexed their muscles in a way designed to menace Cisco and other networking vendors, while keeping alive telcos’ dreams of offering enterprise app stores.

The threat came in news that Arm, Vodafone, NXP Semiconductors and Telco Systems have together built a “universal customer premises equipment” (uCPE) box that can run multiple enterprise services such as SD-WAN, routing and firewall. The device can host those workloads as either container or virtual machines and the fact it uses abstractions means the workloads can be changed or upgraded. Vodafone reckons the box can serve users from small business all the way up to enterprises.

The four contrast that with conventional CPE devices that typically run only a single workload and struggle to upgrade firmware never mind refresh a firewall’s code or add a load-balancer if customers decide they need one. They also point out that millions of CPE devices are sold each year, and that it’s telcos that do the selling as they are bundled with voice and data services.

The four were gracious enough to say that Cisco’s more substantial products can already do the kind of software-defined upgrades that Arm and friends envision.

The motive here is simple for Arm, NXP and Telco Systems: they all want to be considered as suppliers of technology to a big market that currently buys from other suppliers.

Vodafone has a different game to play, because like most carriers around the world it has spent a decade seething at being unable to leverage its relationship with customers into revenue for services beyond carriage. The likes of Apple and Google have sold “over-the-top” services that cream consumer cash, while the hyperscale clouds’ marketplaces have done likewise for business software. By showing it can build a platform that would put it in a position to become the source of networking software for its customers, Vodafone is challenging its current suppliers.

The likes of Intel and RISC-V CPU builders also get a little to think about. So do software vendors and clouds, many of which now offer networking functions as cloud services. Competitive intelligence analysts at hyperconverged infrastructure vendors might open a new file because what’s proposed here is a more capable edge device even if it won’t have the grunt to run business workloads.

Those incumbents will also look at history and note that telcos’ ambitions have seldom if ever seen them break out of their niche as bit-movers. ®

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