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Will HPE+Juniper create a bigger AI sum and do network neutrality and slicing mix?

2024 got off to a busy start, with Nile, Nokia and Ericsson in action in January on private 5G networks, 5GSA, NaaS and Network as Code, writes Contributing Editor Annie Turner

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Juniper Networks said they had reached a definitive deal for HPE to acquire Juniper for $16 billion. The rationale is that the “highly complementary combination enhances secure, unified, cloud and AI-native networking to drive innovation from edge to cloud to exascale,” according to the press statement. HPE’s share price fell 9% when the deal was announced and had not recovered at the time of writing.

Antonio Neri, President and CEO, HPE
Rami Rahim, CEO, Juniper
Juniper’s CEO Rami Rahim

The “complementary” part is that Juniper Networks got into AI network automation four years ago with its acquisition of Mist Systems. Its success in the enterprise market has surpassed slowing sales in its telecoms and data centre heartlands.

In summer 2023, HPE entered the AI cloud market with HPE Greenlake to develop large language models (LLMs) for enterprises’ use, on-demand. It also started working with NVIDIA last November, to deliver “an enterprise-class, full-stack GenAI solution”. In between, in made a slew of announcements at MWC 2023 around “AI-native architecture and hybrid cloud solutions”.

The deal is subject to the usual regulatory approvals and also the approval of Juniper’s shareholders. HPE expects the deal to close in late 2024 or early 2025. Assuming those hurdles are cleared, Juniper’s CEO Rami Rahim will lead the combined HPE networking business, reporting to HPE President and CEO Antonio Neri. As always, it’s going to be a tough job delivering the expected advantages from the merger.

Is network neutrality vs slicing?

T-Mobile and others in the mobile ecosystem are not happy about the Biden Administration’s determination to reinstate net neutrality rules. T-Mobile said new developments like network slicing don’t fit into the rules’ older landscape in its filing to the telecoms regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In its submission to the FCC, Nokia wrote, “It takes a long time to develop new technologies to enable things like slicing, and these will require additional investment by operators to implement them into the network to meet consumer and industrial expectations. Uncertainty driven by an unbounded GCS, and whether partitioning of growing network capacity to support implementation of advanced services will be allowed, will hang like a regulatory sword of Damocles over the 5G market in the United States.”

The public interest organisation, Public Knowledge, is unmoved. It argues that networking slicing is covered by FCC’s existing “reasonable network management” provisions and a new approach is not required.

Mixing private 5G nets and metal

SMS Group, a designer of metallurgical plants and machinery, announced it has built a private 5G campus network with European telecoms provider Mugler and Ericsson. They are to test large-scale automation and systems in real-time at SMS’s Hilchenbach facility in Siegerland, Germany.

The plan is to attain data rates up to 10Gbps to make real-time applications in large-scale systems safer with lower emissions and more flexible production options. The project has received both federal- and state-level funding to develop the use of automated guided vehicles, IoT and lone worker applications.

It will build on the knowledge and experience gained from the 5G-Furios research projects that are run and funded by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 project Zero-SWARM, and the CLOUD56 research project of the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMDV).

5GSA and Network as Code for NOS

Jorge Graça, Chief Technology Officer at NOS
Jorge Graça, Chief Technology Officer at NOS

Nokia secured a 5G Standalone core contract with Portugal’s NOS. The operator plans to exploit Nokia’s automation and low latency capabilities on which to base 5G-enabled services. The Finnish vendor leads the 5G Standalone core market with more than 80 communication service provider (CSP) customers around the world.

Jorge Graça, Chief Technology Officer at NOS, said, “Innovation is a core tenet of our market leadership in 5G and the collaboration with Nokia has proven to be key in that continued success. With the introduction of Nokia’s 5G SA Core we can further monetize our assets by exposing our network functions and exploring new growth opportunities.”

NOS also signed up for Nokia’s Network as Code portal which allows third-party developers to write software for industrial, enterprise and consumer applications. Since launching the Network as Code platform in September 2023, Nokia says sealed collaboration agreements with 10 network operators and ecosystem partners.

Nokia is providing NOS with its MantaRay Network Management solution (formerly known as NetAct) to deliver “a consolidated and automated network view for improved network monitoring and management”. The cloud fabric and networking infrastructure for this project will run on Nokia 7220 IXR interconnect routers, managed and automated by the Nokia Fabric Services System.

Frontier rides on Nile’s NaaS

The US’ fibre provider Frontier Communications is the first service provider in North America to deploy Nile’s Network-as-a-Service (NaaS). Frontier will offer NaaS to enterprise customers but it has implemented the tech for its own use at its new Dallas headquarters. Customers will be able to self-provision functionalities such as switches, firewalls and wireless access points as part of a monthly subscription. Frontier provides fibre for universities, healthcare institutions and local and state government organisations in 25 states.

Pankaj Patel, Nile’s CEO and Co-founder said, “The Nile Access Service is ideal for service providers like Frontier, as it provides a complete wired and wireless Local Area Network (LAN) offering that enables them to deepen their partnerships with their enterprise customers but doesn’t add to their operational burden.”

Nile is a networking start-up co-founded by former Cisco Systems’ CEO John Chambers and Pankaj Patel whose last role in his almost 14 years at Cisco was as EVP and Chief Development Officer. Nile raised $175 million in a new round of funding last August in its quest to rival Cisco.