March - 2008 issue > Company Spotlight
Starent Networks: Starry Road Ahead
Jaya Smitha Menon
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Ever since reality shows made it to the top, in the world of entertainment, the telecom industry is in an upward swing. Whether it is ‘Big Brother’ in the U.K., ‘American Idol’ in the U.S., or the ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ show in India, these game shows are quite popular with the masses - thanks to the opportunity it gives to the audience to help their favorite stars win. However the challenges the telecom industry had to face initially with this new trend in the entertainment industry were manifold.

Managing the huge traffic of SMS in the network on these occasions without choking the network and channelizing the data efficiently and effectively are big challenges. However these challenges are modest in comparison to managing data traffic of mobile subscribers accessing high bandwidth applications such as YouTube, or services that require low latency such as push-to-talk over the mobile.

When mobile operators like China Unicom, KDDI, and Verizon faced this challenge they turned to Starent Networks to provide key elements of their multimedia core network. Starent Networks is a U.S. based company that runs a large part of its development from India. The company offers technology that provides the functions and services required for the delivery of advanced multimedia services through the mobile operators’ packet core network. “Our products act as a gateway which connects the radio access network to the Packet Data Network to enable wireless subscribers to access the Internet to download music, video content, and get access to other multimedia services,” explains Sundar Ramaswamy, Director of Engineering, Bangalore Development Center.

As mobile operators deploy a greater variety of multimedia services, they are looking to implement more control over each session so that they can enhance the subscriber experience while maximizing network efficiency. An intelligent network provides mobile operators with the ability to inspect data packets from individual transactions in great detail. This deep packet inspection allows the mobile operator to shape each subscriber session using quality of service, bandwidth allocation, and traffic flow control.

The company designs and develops its next generation intelligent mobile infrastructure for a variety of radio access networks including 2G, 2.5G, 3G, Mobile WiMAX, and WiFi. The solutions of Starent are capable of supporting multiple modes of access, such as CDMA and Mobile WiMAX, in a single platform. This capability allows the mobile operators to deliver a uniform service experience to subscribers from a single platform, simplifying the network and limiting operator costs. Further, the company has designed its solutions for use in today’s mobile networks, while also keeping them readily upgradeable to respond to the evolving mobile operator environments or requirements, such as IMS or MMD.


Staying ahead in the telecom space

However, to build applications that is capable of high-speed data transfer and is furnished with the intelligence to shape each transaction is not an easy task. To run multiple applications in one single platform requires a robust architecture. However, for the engineers at the India center of Starent this challenge has been quite exciting. Routers and network switches lack the integrated processing power, memory, and the software needed to examine individual packets and apply defined business policies and subscriber services to them. To overcome these shortcomings, mobile operators typically connect the repurposed switches and routers with numerous enterprise servers in order to provide intelligent services. These multi-element configurations increase network complexity and impact performance, such as session latency. The team in India has helped develop solutions so that they increase efficiency, improve availability, and simplify the network architecture.

“Our platform is very user friendly and can handle from 500,000 to 3 million calls at a time, depending on the technology and configuration,” says Vijay Kathuria, Vice - President and General Manager, Starent India. Thanks to the high performance characteristics of Starent’s solutions, the company has been successful in attracting over 60 mobile operator deployments in more than 25 countries. “Apart from being a high capacity platform, it can handle the recovery of sessions after a disruption within the platform and self-heal without affecting the continuity of the sessions. Today, the number of simultaneous sessions that pass through the platform at any given time is very high. As the call gets transferred from one base station to another, there is a high chance of many handovers that need to be handled by the system,” explains Kathuria.

In addition to the access, mobility management, and call control functions, Starent’s solutions are capable of integrating advanced services such as enhanced charging, Intelligent Traffic Control, and content filtering in the core network. This also enables the operators to enhance their service offerings or provide new services. One such example is content filtering, with which operators can provide parental controls and prevent certain subscribers from accessing inappropriate or unlawful mobile content.

Building relationships

As the operators around the world are upgrading to a more advanced, higher bandwidth technology, Starent is cementing its relationships with its existing clientele through its recently introduced ST40 multimedia core platform. The next generation ST40 platform is capable of handling a much higher capacity and performance to support the increase in 3G-multimedia traffic. “We continue to build our relationships with our customers, including those early customers who started deploying ST16 in the year 2003,” says Ramaswamy. “This indicates a positive trend as we have been successful in maintaining the customers’ confidence in us and delivering the solutions they need to satisfy their subscribers’ expectations despite stiff competition from giant players in the networking industry,” he explains.

To keep pace with the fast changing technologies in the telecom industry, Starent encourages innovation within the company. Innovation is rewarded in a variety of ways including cash awards and even stock options. “As a new kid on the block, we had to develop products superior to those of our competitors to succeed. This was possible through the constant research and development activities encouraged in the company,” says Sandeep Bhambani, Director of Engineering, Starent Pune. The company now has more than 30 patents in process, and is working on the next generation, 4G, wireless technologies. “Though India is now largely at 2 or 2.5 G, a lot of advanced countries are at 3G and moving towards 4G. At Starent Networks, we keep pace with the developments happening globally on the technology front and also help shape the future of telecom through our participation in the telecom standards bodies,” explains Bhambani.

The company recently announced that it would partner with Airspan Networks (Nasdaq:AIRN), a leading provider of WiMAX and WiFi-based broadband wireless access networks, to jointly deliver an end-to-end Mobile WiMAX network solution. It has also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Economic Affairs in Taiwan for the promotion and development of the WiMAX industry in Taiwan. The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) also signed MoUs for cooperation in the promotion and production of WiMAX products with Sprint Nextel, Nokia Siemens Networks, Alcatel-Lucent, and Motorola.

The growth trajectory has been steady for the company till now. It has come out of the tumultuous days when it could have burnt the cash and run into the hands of big guns that were in the acquisition mood. Starent went public in June 2007 and was rated as one of the high-growth, high-momentum stocks of the coming year by CNBC, while Goldman Sachs, the investment banker added Starent to its ‘Technology Framework’ list of growth stocks. The competitive juices are flowing at Starent and it is now up to the company to confirm its place as a young and promising company with key strategic accounts and solid technology. Because post IPO, the market is watching closely and quarter-to-quarter performance decides the destiny.

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