AT&T to Invest $200M in SDN, IoT-Focused Startups

Telecom giant AT&T is putting up $200 million to support startups focusing on connected services and the future of software-defined networking (SDN) technology.

AT&T, working with Minnesota-based venture capital firm Coral Group, will together identify and invest in IoT startups, the two companies said on Thursday.

AT&T has been busy over the past year pushing its IoT strategy. The latest investment signals that AT&T wants more SDN innovation to come to market more quickly, according to Rickie Richey, CEO of Altaworx, an AT&T Platinum partner that focuses on wireless and IoT solutions.

"I don't think they are getting where they want to go as fast as they thought they would, so they are reaching outside of their internal resources to find some solutions," he said.

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But AT&T is on the right path, Richey said. As networks become more complicated and crowded thanks to new kinds of traffic, like connected device traffic, SDN will be critical, he added.

The Dallas-based carrier will partner with Coral Group's Communications Industry Platform (CIP) team to target startups using the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), an operating system for software-defined networks which is hosted by the Linux Foundation. ONAP came about via a merger between technology created in AT&T Labs, the carrier's research and development division, and existing open source efforts, according to AT&T.

For its part, AT&T said the investment will help the carrier address the needs of global service providers.

"We look forward to collaborating with Coral and other CIP members to find – and even create – startup companies to build disruptive technologies to solve these challenges," Andre Fuetsch, chief technology officer and president of AT&T Labs said in a statement.

From the partner perspective, the investment in SDN technology is positive because it will benefit all of AT&T's networks, including its core network and the LTE-M network that supports IoT, Fairhope, Ala.-based Altaworx's Richey said.

"Being able to turn networks up and down as they need would be a huge benefit for our business and being able to deliver services for our customers without having to engage AT&T," he said. "As a partner, it makes it easier to do business with them for sure."

That AT&T is continuing to invest in the same things that Altaworx is laser-focused on is important, Richey said.

"It's good to see [AT&T] continue to improve their platforms, and software-defined networks are going be better for partners than anyone else because it helps us move faster and get new services billing," he said.

Established telecom player AT&T is no stranger to supporting startups. The provider works with these companies through the AT&T Foundry, a series of collaborative "innovation centers" located in Texas, California, Georgia, and Israel.