Special Report—The top 8 telecom disrupters of 2018

Mike Robuck

FierceTelecom is tracking the companies that are having the biggest impact in the telecommunications space as technology continues to evolve at a rapid clip. Here are the top telecom tech disrupters for 2018.

While some of the larger telcos, namely AT&T and Telefónica, have been surfing the virtualization wave for several years, we're not even close to hitting the high water mark. On-demand services, whether they're in the form of video clips or business applications, have created an insatiable demand for bandwidth that keep IT and network engineers continuously looking for new technologies and techniques. The evolution to the cloud, namely hybrid cloud, is a pivot point in enabling a number of the new services and applications.

"There is a bumper crop of startups in cloud and virtualized infrastructure that are driving innovation right now," said industry veteran Scott Raynovich, chief analyst and founder of Futuriom. "I think you will see many of these companies become leaders of the next wave of networking needs.” 

We also consulted with Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research, on this list of top disrupters. Doyle has over 25 years’ experience analyzing the IT, network and telecom markets, and has covered software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), enterprise adoption of networking technologies and IT/telecom convergence.

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Here's a look at the companies that made this year's list:

Affirmed Networks has been one of the leading vendors for network functions virtualization. On the mobile side, the company's vEPC (virtualized Evolved Packet Core) is in use by 80 worldwide customers. Affirmed Networks has also worked on network slicing on today's core networks ahead of the migration to 5G.

• Startup Apstra has been a pioneer of intent-based networking and intent-based analytics for data center network operations. Apstra first rolled out a vendor-agnostic management platform, AOS, in 2016. Last fall, AOS 2.0 was launched, with features that include closed-loop telemetry and automation of operations across underlay and overlay networks in data centers. 

Aryaka Networks, along with Cato Networks, offers cloud-based software defined-wide area networking (SD-WAN)-as-a-service to medium-sized businesses and large enterprises around the world. Privately-held Aryaka has 30 software-defined POPs with customer sites in 70 countries. It has openly discussed an initial public offering as early as next year. According to Futuriom's "2018 Growth SD-WAN Outlook," at least three SD-WAN and network-as-a-service vendors could exceed $100 million in annual revenue this year. The vendors with the best chance to reach that amount are VMware/VeloCloud, Aryaka and Silver Peak. 

Big Switch Networks, which was founded in 2010, was an early proponent of SDN. Big Switch offers data center switching, monitoring, visibility and security solutions for on-premises enterprise cloud, public cloud and multicloud environments for enterprises and service providers. In July, the company announced an on-premises version of the virtual networking now available in public clouds in order to help network operators deploy on-premise networks on demand.

Cumulus Networks is known for bringing web-scale networking to the enterprise cloud. Cumulus’ Linux operating system works with more than 50 switching platforms from 10 different hardware vendors. Cumulus, which also sells its own turnkey hardware/software system, closed a $43 million series D funding round at the start of this year.

• Speaking of funding, SD-WAN vendor Silver Peak closed a  $90 million round of investment in June that exceeded the total amount it has raised over the past 15 years of its existence. Silver Peak announced today that it has surpassed the 1,000-customer threshold for its SD-WAN solution.

VMware traces its roots back to 1998 and has laid claim to being the first commercial company to successfully virtualize the x86 server architecture. A subsidiary of Dell Technology since 2012, VMware was briefly a partner with Cisco in 2008, but the companies became bitter rivals over the ensuing years. VMware has stayed on top of its game by buying SD-WAN vendor VeloCloud for an undisclosed sum last year, and by moving aggressively into cloud-based Kubernetes and 5G sectors.

Versa Networks plays in both the SD-WAN space and the SD-WAN security segment. Versa was one of the first SD-WAN vendors to hit the market several years ago. As of June, it has sold more than 150,000 contracted licenses worldwide to over 50 managed service providers customers including Liberty Global, Comcast Business, CenturyLink and Verizon. Also in June, Verizon, which was one of the first investors in Versa, announced it had worked with Versa on a new SD-WAN-based service that was designed to help businesses with complex IT management needs.

All lists are subjective in nature. If you think we missed anyone, send an email and let me know who your top tech disrupters are. — Mike