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Cellwize raises $32M to help carriers and their partners adopt and run 5G services

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As 5G slowly moves from being a theoretical to an active part of the coverage map for the mobile industry — if not for consumers themselves — companies that are helping carriers make the migration less painful and less costly are seeing a boost of attention.

In the latest development, Cellwize, a startup that’s built a platform to automate and optimize data for carriers to run 5G networks within multi-vendor environments, has raised $32 million — funding that it will use to continue expanding its business into more geographies and investing in R&D to bring more capabilities to its flagship CHIME platform.

The funding is notable because of the list of strategic companies doing the investing, as well as because of the amount of traction that Cellwize has had to date.

The Series B round is being co-led Intel Capital and Qualcomm Ventures LLC, and Verizon Ventures (which is part of Verizon, which also owns TechCrunch by way of Verizon Media) and Samsung Next, with existing shareholders also participating. That list includes Deutsche Telekom and Sonae, a Portuguese conglomerate that owns multiple brands in retail, financial services, telecoms and more.

That backing underscores Cellwize’s growth. The company — which is based in Israel with operations also in Dallas and Singapore — says it currently provides services to some 40 carriers (including Verizon, Telefonica and more), covering 16 countries, 3 million cell sites, and 800 million subscribers.

Cellwize is not disclosing its valuation but it has raised $56.5 million from investors to date.

5G holds a lot of promise for carriers, their vendors, handset makers and others in the mobile ecosystem: the belief is that faster and more efficient speeds for wireless data will unlock a new wave of services and usage and revenues from services for consumers and business, covering not just people but IoT networks, too.

Notwithstanding the concerns some have had with health risks, despite much of that theory being debunked over the years, one of the technical issues with 5G has been implementing it.

Migrating can be costly and laborious, not least because carriers will likely be running hybrid systems in the Radio Access Network (RAN, which controls how devices interface with carriers’ networks), where they will be managing legacy networks (eg, 2G, 3G, 4G, LTE) alongside 5G, and working with multiple vendors within 5G itself.

Cellwize positions its CHIME platform — which works as an all-in-one tool that covers configuring new 5G networks, optimizing and monitoring data on them, and also providing APIs for third-party developers to integrate with it — as the bridge to letting carriers operate in the more open-shop approach that is afforded by the move to 5G.

“While large companies have traditionally been more dominant in the RAN market, 5G is changing the landscape for how the entire mobile industry operates,” said Ofir Zemer, Cellwize’s CEO. “These traditional vendors usually offer solutions which plug into their own equipment, while not allowing third parties to connect, and this creates a closed and limited ecosystem. [But] the large operators also are not interested in being tied to one vendor: not technology-wise and not on the business side – as they identify this as an inhibitor to their own innovation.”

Cellwize provides an open platform that allows a carrier to plan, deploy and manage the RAN in that kind of multi-vendor ecosystem. “We have seen an extremely high demand for our solution and as 5G rollouts continue to increase globally, we expect the demand for our product will only continue to grow,” he added.

Previously, Zemer said that carriers would build their own products internally to manage data in the RAN, but these “struggle to support 5G.”

The competition element is not just lip service: the fact that both Intel and Qualcomm — competitors in key respects — are investing in this round underscores how Cellwize sees itself as a kind of Switzerland in mobile architecture. It also underscores that both view easy and deep integrations with its tech as something worth backing, given the priorities of each of their carrier customers.

“Over the last decade, Intel technologies have been instrumental in enabling the communications industry to transform networks with an agile and scalable infrastructure,” said David Flanagan, VP and senior MD at Intel Capital, in a statement. “With the challenges in managing the high complexity of radio access networks, we are encouraged by the opportunity in front of Cellwize to explore ways to utilize their AI-based automation capabilities as Intel brings the benefits of cloud architectures to service provider and private networks.”

“Qualcomm is at the forefront of 5G expansion, creating a robust ecosystem of technologies that will usher in the new era of connectivity,” added Merav Weinryb, Senior Director of Qualcomm Israel Ltd. and MD of Qualcomm Ventures Israel and Europe. “As a leader in RAN automation and orchestration, Cellwize plays an important role in 5G deployment. We are excited to support Cellwize through the Qualcomm Ventures’ 5G global ecosystem fund as they scale and expedite 5G adoption worldwide.”

And that is the key point. Right now there are precious few 5G deployments, and sometimes, when you read some the less shiny reports of 5G rollouts, you might be forgiven for feeling like it’s more marketing than reality at this point. But Zemer — who is not a co-founder (both of them have left the company) but has been with it since 2013, almost from the start — is sitting in on the meetings with carriers, and he believes that it won’t be long before all that tips.

“Within the next five years, approximately 75% of mobile connections will be powered by 5G, and 2.6 billion 5G mobile subscriptions will be serving 65% of the world’s population,” he said. “While 5G technology holds a tremendous amount of promise, the reality is that it is also hyper-complex, comprised of multiple technologies, architectures, bands, layers, and RAN/vRAN players. We are working with network operators around the world to help them overcome the challenges of rolling out and managing these next generation networks, by automating their entire RAN processes, allowing them to successfully deliver 5G to their customers.”

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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The Trump administration will add SMIC, China’s largest chipmaker, to its defense blacklist: report

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SMIC, one of largest chip makers in the world, is among several companies that the Department of Defense plans to designate as being owned or controlled by the Chinese military, reports Reuters. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order, set to go into effect on January 11, that would bar U.S. investors from buying securities from companies on the defense blacklist.

In a statement to Reuters, SMIC said it continues “to engage constructively and openly with the U.S. government” and that it “has no relationship with the Chinese military and does not manufacture for military end-users or end-uses.”

The largest semiconductor maker in China, SMIC holds about 4% of the worldwide foundry market, estimates market research firm TrendForce. Its U.S. customers have included Qualcomm, Broadcom and Texas Instruments.

There are currently 31 companies on the defense blacklist. SMIC is one of four new companies that the Department of Defense plans to add, according to Reuters. The others are China Construction Technology, China International Engineering Consulting Corp and China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC).

The company delisted from NYSE in May 2019, but it said that the decision was prompted by the limited trading volume and high administrative costs, not the U.S.-China trade war or the U.S. government’s blacklisting of Huawei and other Chinese tech companies.

SMIC has already been impacted by export restrictions that prevent them from purchasing key equipment from American suppliers. At the beginning of October, it told shareholders that export restrictions set by the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security could have “material adverse effects” on its production.

The executive order, and the possible addition of new companies to the defense blacklist, is in-line with the Trump administration’s hard stance against Chinese tech companies, including Huawei, ZTE and ByteDance, that it claims are a potential national security threat through their alleged ties to the Chinese government and military. But the future of a lot of the current administration’s policies after the Joe Biden assumes the presidency on January 20 is uncertain.

TechCrunch has contacted SMIC for comment.

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Primer, the fintech helping merchants consolidate the payments stack, raises £14M Series A

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Primer, the U.K. fintech that wants to help merchants consolidate their payments stack and easily support new payment methods in the future, has raised £14 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Accel, who I understand were quite proactive in persuading Primer to take the VC firm’s money.

The young company wasn’t actively fund-raising, having quietly raised £3.8 million in funding announced in May. Instead, the team was heads down building out the product and wooing potential customers by holding technical workshops and in-depth interviews over Zoom with 100 merchants — activity that didn’t go unnoticed.

Also participating in the Series A are existing investors: Balderton, SpeedInvest and Seedcamp, who were joined in the round by new backer RTP Global. Sonali De Rycker, partner at Accel, will join Primer’s board.

Founded by ex-PayPal employees – via PayPal’s acquisition of Braintree — Primer wants to offer one payments API to (hopefully) rule them all, with the explicit aim of bringing greater transparency to a merchant’s payment stack.

The thinking is that larger merchants, especially those that operate in more than one geography, have to support an array of payment methods, which brings with it significant technical overhead, a poor user experience, and lack of transparency.

Primer, now described as a “low code” platform, carries out a lot of that heavy-lifting on behalf of merchants and while remaining steadfastly payment method agnostic. By doing so, the idea is to reduce friction when adopting new payment methods as they come to market, and be able to provide better insights into things like how well each checkout option is performing.

As well as payment-service-providers (PSPs), the platform has connectors for fraud providers, chargeback services, subscription billing engines, BI tools, loyalty and rewards platforms. Both payments and non-payments services can be “seamlessly connected to the checkout experience and payments flow via workflows, enabling merchants to unify their fraud migration efforts, build sophisticated transaction routing, and solve complex flows – all with no code,” explains Primer.

Primer says the additional funding will be used for international business development and scaling its team. Billed as a remote-first company, Primer has 23 employees across six countries, and says it has already picked up traction across mid-market and large enterprise e-commerce merchants across Europe.

Comments Paul Anthony, Primer’s co-founder and head of product and engineering: “During our time at PayPal, we saw first-hand the technical burden online merchants face trying to offer the best payments experiences to their customers globally. Our low-code approach enables merchants’ payments teams to manage and expand their payments ecosystems, and maintain sophisticated payments logic with a familiar workflow UI”.

Meanwhile, the new investment brings Primer’s total funding to £17.8 million, and comes only a few weeks after the initial launch of the company’s platform.

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Gillmor Gang: Electrical Banana

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Thanks I’m giving for the start of the first big online season. Yes, the pandemic has put in place a gigantic move to the digital for our immediate and accelerated future. We all know how this plays out in the required state of things pre-vaccine. But there’s an undercurrent not so hidden there of a dynamic answer to my wife’s stubborn question: Where’s my Jetpack?

She’s a child of the 60s, a post-Beatles time of imploding dreams and dashed expectations. James Bond got to fly a Jetpack, but the telltale burned gasoline exhaust made the effect an artifact of what wasn’t going to happen. In an electric decade and noise-canceling AirPods, maybe it’s more likely to surface than not, but if so, what’s the next Jetpack?

My vote is for the electric newsletter, a notification engine that knows what I’m tracking, projects the trends circulating my core peers, and invests proactively in the products we want to accelerate. It’s a self healing economy, a research coordinator, a humor and media rewarder. On the Gang, we use a blend of live streaming, backchannel notifications, and everything up to but not including a newsletter.

From its earliest days, Twitter promised a future where RSS authority would be mined in a social context. What I mean by that is RSS delivered the ability, the chair in the sky opportunity Louis C.K. described, the chance to explore the world alongside the artists formerly known as accredited journalists. It was always a tough sell for the displaced gatekeepers, but flash forward to today and you can see they’re all bloggers and podcasters now.

The moment the meritocracy window opened, the definition of success moved to the readers, the viewers, the social enterprise as Marc Benioff insisted. Software as a service mined those social signals as fuel for what the iPhone delivered in the mobile wave. Now the mobile economy is expanding to the silicon on the desktop. M1 seems like an evolution, but its entry point on consumer laptops is designed to produce network effects in the same way Office 97 boosted Windows 95 into orbit.

So where is this electric newsletter if it’s so important? As a vehicle for finding stuff I didn’t know I cared about, newsletters suffer from too many of them with too few business models driving them. Subscriptions derive revenue but reduce the network effects of advertising supported subsidy of firewalls. You get reach but quantity explodes. Context glut is not a pretty thing, either.

Our early attempts at constructing a Gang newsletter spawned the realtimeTelegram feed; its group-shared notification stream valuable as much for what we skipped as when we dipped in to it. As a framing device for the Gillmor Gang recording sessions, we could anticipate both what we wanted to talk about and what we wanted to avoid. Trump fatigue gets burned off in Telegram, while science and innovation get drilled down on and fleshed out in advance.

Adding a Twitter feed (follow @gillmorgang) pushes Likes and retweets into the mix. The live recording stream generates Facebook Watch Parties and additional comments. An edited version here on TechCrunch adds this related commentary. But where’s the newsletter for all these live pieces?

Perhaps the answer goes back to the Jetpack? It may not be the Jetpack we are looking for, but rather the components that make up this stream as a service. A Jetpack offers the dream of instant teleportation without the traffic jams or being polite about your Uber driver’s musical taste. Zoom already offers some of that promise, where saving the commute opens up hours in your day. Zoom-enabled shopping and delivery management will go a long way.

As Donovan presciently proclaimed, Electrical Banana gonna to be the very next phase. My electric newsletter is the perfect definition of a pipe dream. It’s not so much as when it’s going to get here as what.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, November 20, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

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