Core Network Dynamics (CND) is at the heart of the mobile industry. CEO Carsten Brinkschulte talks to us about the core network space, which is the critical, behind-the-scenes infrastructure required to run a mobile network, and discusses the challenges and achievements the company has seen over the past few years.
Start by describing in your words what your company is and what it does.
CND develops and markets OpenEPC, a complete mobile network infrastructure in software that runs on commodity hardware. We are a privately held spin-off from the famous German research institute, Fraunhofer FOKUS and based in Berlin. Our software is the result of over 100 man-years of engineering and recognised as the de facto standard for 4G testbeds in the mobile industry.
We target a range of clients, including mobile operators designing next-generation mobile networks; first responder/public safety organisations requiring a secure private LTE network compatible with off-the-shelf smartphones; companies operating in remote areas where mobile coverage is patchy or non-existent; and operators evaluating advanced mobile edge computing concepts to implement distributed mobile networks for IoT applications.
What do you think makes it distinct to any other companies – what’s its USP?
We have more than one!
OpenEPC can scale up to millions of subscribers with carrier-grade features such as load-balancing and fail-over, but unlike the incumbents, we can also scale down. Its lightweight footprint makes it ideal for mobile edge computing, deploying a distributed core at the edge of the network – or in the extreme, embedded in small cells and deployed at the customer site. OpenEPC delivers a step change for mobile communications as it means we can build ultra-portable, highly resilient, distributed mobile networks for use cases including public safety, emergency services, oil and mining, construction, and Industrial IoT.
Our breakthrough is giving users a miniaturised, dynamic mobile network wherever they go, using small cells that are meshed together. Each cell becomes an autonomous, ultra-portable, miniaturised mobile network that can serve standard smartphones or tablets and be carried in a backpack, or attached to a vehicle out in the field.
Whether operating in built-up urban conurbations or remote areas with patchy or no network coverage, the mobile ‘bubble’ moves with them. And when these pocket-sized mobile networks are connected using mesh topology to other bubbles, it becomes a swarm of networks, dynamically extending the reach of the combined network with every bubble added.
Our goal is to support ultra-mobile mobile networks where the mesh network reconfigures itself as the cells move. Imagine driving from France to Germany and your voice call just continues – whereas today your call would be interrupted as you change between carriers. We’re designing our software to overcome the current complex network configuration and synchronisation challenges and make continuous uninterrupted calls/data exchange possible in this scenario.
Another USP is that we license the source code of our OpenEPC software to OEM partners. As far as we know, no one else in this field does this. Over the past 18 months we have signed up 11 OEMs who are customising and integrating our technology to fit their specific requirements– not just a bolt-on, shrink-wrap offer. We call it shared source as, unlike opensource, our partners can contribute back into the shared repository that we manage so improvements end up in others’ pots too.
What is your personal background?
I am a mobile industry veteran. I founded mobile messaging start-up Synchronica in 2004 and subsequently sold the firm to AIM-listed DAT Group, which rebranded as Synchronica; I was appointed CEO soon afterwards. The business was eventually sold to Myriad Group in 2012. I also spent two years at virtual SIM start-up Movirtu as CEO and spearheaded the successful trade sale to BlackBerry. I joined CND as CEO in October 2015 to head up a major expansion drive, which continues to this day.
What inspired you to join the company?
The high calibre of its team and the quality of the software they were building. Plus the fact that OpenEPC was already the de facto standard for 4G testbeds in the mobile industry.
The software clearly has the potential to be an industry game changer and I felt confident that I could add value by helping them transition from their research roots into a fully-fledged commercial entity with strong momentum.
What is the story of the company from launch until now? How big is the company now?
Since the spin-off from the research institute in 2013 we have been growing fast. We launched the first commercial, carrier-grade version of OpenEPC in February 2016 and now have 105 customers and 11 OEM partners.
For the past 18 months we have been focusing on using our growing band of OEM partners as a route to market, because this approach offers us a great way to scale globally and into different markets without having to build a large sales, operations and support organisation. We license our source code to OEMs, which is proving to be a very successful strategy because it gives them greater control and the ability to innovate faster. We, on the other hand, benefit from their global scale and existing relationships with end-customers.
We are also heavily involved in moving the 5G development needle through our work with two EU-funded Horizon 2020 projects: the 2020 5GPPP 5G-Crosshaul consortium, and the AMMCOA project for M2M mobile communication services for farming and mining verticals.
We have also just joined the MulteFire Alliance, which aims to broaden the LTE ecosystem by enabling complete mobile networks to be deployed in the unlicensed spectrum. The vision is that our software will help provide distributed, self-organising private LTE networks for the enterprise and public safety markets.
We now have 17 employees in Berlin, are profitable, and are considering further investment to help us ramp up for the next phase of our growth.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in your company?
The biggest challenge so far has been to handle rather large-scale projects with a small organisation, which our team has handled surprisingly well. We are punching above our weight and of course we are feeling some growth pains.
However, the biggest challenge has been to say “no” to opportunities when we felt that we did not (yet) have the right OEM partner in place to meet a particular demand.
What’s your biggest milestone/which are you most proud of?
It’s hard to name just one!
I think that developing a carrier-grade version of OpenEPC, coming out of research, for live deployments was a major milestone.
Also, I’m proud of our 11 OEM partnerships and our decision to license the source code to them – something very uncommon in this industry. We are working on some very interesting projects with our OEMs, including a project to miniaturise a voice and data network for military/public safety and IIoT use cases.
Also, it’s always great to see respected industry analysts commenting on the potential markets for your technology. Caroline Gabriel, Director of Research at Rethink Technology Research, recently stated that: “MulteFire will allow new challengers to enter the market and launch lower-cost services more quickly than traditional operators, including ‘network in a box’ offerings using virtualised cores from the likes of Core Network Dynamics”.
What is your business model? How have you monetised your product?
Our business model involves partnering with OEMs to target mobile operators and enterprise markets in North America, Asia and Europe.
We are licensing OpenEPC with a volume-based licensing model, which scales as the number of end-customers grows, based on capacity, number of radios or subscribers registered. The exact model varies from OEM to OEM, and from target market to target market. However, we always have a scalable model, even if the metrics may be different.
What’s the next step for growth?
CND will need to keep up with the expected influx of orders from our OEM partners next year and we will have to step up our support and pre-sales team to meet demand and satisfy a growing number of prospects.
Will you be looking for more funding?
Yes, we have ambitious growth plans and are interested in additional funding, which would enable us to grow the team ahead of revenue.