Qualcomm acquires Israeli startup Cellwize

Qualcomm Technologies today announced that it has acquired Israel-based startup Cellwize Wireless Technologies. Terms were not disclosed.

Rumors were swirling a month ago that Qualcomm was planning to buy Cellwize for $300 million. Calcalist reported today that the final price was $350 million.

Cellwize, whose clients include Verizon, Telefonica, Nextel and Movistar, provides 5G network deployment, automation and management software platform capabilities that strengthen Qualcomm’s 5G infrastructure solutions, according to Durga Malladi, senior vice president and general manager, Cellular Modems and Infrastructure at Qualcomm.

To be sure, Qualcomm is not an infrastructure vendor, but it provides pieces of the puzzle for operators that are moving to open Radio Access Network (RAN). An oft-cited benefit of open RAN is avoiding vendor-lock-in from proprietary hardware and software, through disaggregation and open interfaces, thus giving operators more flexibility.

“The addition of Cellwize’s best-in-class RAN automation technologies strengthens Qualcomm Technologies’ ability to drive the development of the modern 5G network – accelerating open RAN global adoption, cloud-based cellular infrastructure innovation and 5G private network deployments,” Malladi said in a statement.  

Cellwize CEO Ofir Zemer has been named vice president, product management at Qualcomm. “We are excited to join Qualcomm Technologies as we are both committed to accelerate the mission to modernize Radio Access Networks and enable mobile network operators and enterprises to fully realize and monetize their digital transformation,” Zemer said in a statement. 

Qualcomm Ventures was one of the lead investors of Cellwize’s Series B in 2020, which raised $32 million. Verizon Ventures also was an investor in that round. Cellwize raised a total of $56.5 million over four rounds.

Verizon CTO Ed Chan and Vodafone’s Santiago Tenorio were among those who provided statements in support of the acquisition. Verizon has been using Cellwize’s RAN automation and management solution as the foundation for its self-organizing network (SON) architecture. Vodafone anticipates testing the Qualcomm and Cellwize solution as it ramps its open RAN deployment.  

'Smartest industry transaction' 

Dimitris Mavrakis, research director at ABI Research, called the acquisition the “smartest industry transaction of the year.”

Several companies, including Intel, Nvidia and VMware, had shown interest in acquiring Cellwize in recent months, according to ABI. However, Qualcomm is probably the best fit for Cellwize given the synergy between the two companies’ technology portfolios and Qualcomm’s leadership in cellular radio technologies and open RAN in particular, he said.

Cellwize’s RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC)/Service Management and Orchestration (SMO) solutions are important additions to Qualcomm’s portfolio as RIC and SMO are critical components in the development of open RAN and play a crucial role in managing and orchestrating radio resources across the Radio Unit (RU), the Centralized Unit (CU) and the Distributed Unit (DU), Mavrakis said in a research note.

“While incumbent vendors have already developed, or are in the process of developing, their own RIC/SMO platforms optimized for their own RAN infrastructure, Cellwize’s solutions are unique because they are created to support truly disaggregated and vendor-agnostic radio infrastructure without compromising compatibility with legacy radio systems,” Mavrakis stated. “This is an important element because such solutions could enable operators to pick and choose from various RU, DU, and CU suppliers to build differentiated infrastructure in line with the requirements of the network they want to target, be that private or public, or greenfield or brownfield.”

The acquisition complements Qualcomm’s offering in the RAN infrastructure and will help Qualcomm accelerate its strategic plan to become a key partner for operators in migrating their network from legacy systems to a true open RAN environment, Mavrakis said. In addition, Qualcomm will benefit from Cellwize’s channels to market, as Cellwize reports its solutions already serve around 800 million subscribers across many operators, hyperscalers and OEMs’ infrastructure, including Telefónica, Verizon, Orange, Globe, Deutsche Telekom, Google Cloud (through the acquisition of MobiledgeX), HPE and others, he noted.