Dish adds more credibility to OpenRAN with Mavenir selection

Mavenir has boasted of signing new US entrant Dish as its latest customer, as the emerging telco sets its sights on the most enviable of tasks; a greenfield network deployment.

Like Rakuten in Japan, Dish is able to embrace the OpenRAN movement like few others can around the world. Without being inhibited by legacy technologies or traditional operational models, the Dish team can build a network from scratch, without making compromises or concessions. It is a dream-come-true for any network engineers; the opportunity to deploy a network exactly as you would want to.

“The open and intelligent architecture of our greenfield network will give us the ability to source a diverse technology ecosystem, including US-based solution providers,” said Marc Rouanne, Chief Network Officer at Dish, and former Nokia executive.

“Mavenir will help us lay the foundation for an innovative software-defined network with the flexibility, intelligence and scalability to deliver applications that will redefine the US wireless industry.”

As part of the agreement, Mavenir will provide Dish with a cloud-native OpenRAN software, which the new telco hopes will underpin the US’ first software-defined 5G wireless broadband network.

While the obvious and most proclaimed benefit of the OpenRAN ecosystem is a wider array of suppliers, all promising there is no such thing as vendor lock-in, another significant upside to the OpenRAN movement is on the operational side of the business.

According to Tareq Amin, Chief Technology Officer at Rakuten, commoditised hardware and open software can lead to a 40% reduction in CAPEX costs for network deployment, but it is in the operations team that the real benefits can be seen. Amin has said the operations team should not exceed 350 employees when the entire network has been deployed, compared to thousands which are employed by rivals.

This is a considerable cost saving for Rakuten, which has allowed it to create 5G tariffs to challenge the status quo. At 2,980 Yen per month, Rakuten is offering mobile connectivity services at roughly half the price of competitors. Customers will have to wait for the full network deployment to experience the full wonder of cut-price Rakuten data, but this is an incredibly disruptive move.

The prospect of pricing disruption in the US is a very interesting one, as it is one of the most expensive markets in the developed world for data.

Market Average Revenue Per User (ARPU)
USA 30.85
UK 16.00
Italy 11.55
Netherlands 13.48
Australia 22.65
Canada 36.67

2020 ARPU estimates from Omdia’s World Information Series (USD – $)

Although there has been much protest over the formation of Dish as a replacement for Sprint in the US mobile industry, this is a positive sign. There are of course plenty of hurdles which need to be overcome, however the construction of an OpenRAN network presents the opportunity for Dish to be incredibly disruptive on pricing when it is launched.

Dish only exists thanks to the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile US, though the major opposition to this transaction was on the grounds of competition. Firstly, critics questioned whether moving to three major MNOs was in the best interest of the consumer, and secondly, opponents wondered whether Dish would be able to create an offering which would match more established rivals.

Eyes should be kept on Japan to see whether Rakuten is a disruption or a minor irritation, but the promise of OpenRAN has been very glorious to date.

While the promise of starting from scratch is very attractive to a telco, Heavy Reading Lead Analyst Gabriel Brown notes, that is a significant issue as well. Starting from nothing means there is nothing there and in a country the size of the US, building a nationwide 5G network is no simple task.

One concession forced on Sprint/T-Mobile US by the Department of Justice was to offer Dish an attractive MVNO style agreement for seven years. This was one element bundled into the $5 billion deal to purchase the Boost prepaid service from Sprint. During this seven-year period, Dish will have to build its own 5G network, a monumental task according to Light Reading’s Mike Dano.

Firstly, work has to stop on the NB-IOT network it was currently deploying. Secondly, Dish has got to find the cash to pay for the 5G network. Thirdly, work will begin on the core network, which Dish executives say will be completed within Year One. Finally, comes the access network.

As part of the agreement with the Department of Justice in greenlighting the Sprint/T-Mobile US merger, Dish will have to option to purchase any cell sites which the merger duo plan to decommission thanks to overlap. Outside of these purchases, Dish will have to deploy backhaul and radio equipment into the major cities, with a promise 20% of the US population will be covered by June 2022.

Thanks to the software-defined ambitions of Dish, a significant chunk of this deployment work can be saved, due to the weightier role of the data centre. That said, the US is a country with a population of 328 million spread over 9,147,590 km2, it is 3,937% larger than the UK. As much as we can talk about the advantages an OpenRAN network will offer Dish over its rivals, it will have to build it first.

An optimist will point towards a future where the OpenRAN-powered Dish can offer disruptive pricing strategies, similar to what has been done in India and will be done in Japan, to turn the US telco market on its head. The pessimist in the group will point out this is a company which has never built a network before, with a CTO who has vendor experience not telco, and a country which is monstrously large, geographically diverse and bureaucratically varied.

OpenRAN enthusiasm spreads to Turkey

Mavenir has announced Turkcell as its latest customer, with the pair planning to deploy OpenRAN vRAN technologies in the telcos domestic market.

As part of the agreement, Mavenir’s Virtual RAN solution will be deployed on Turkcell Telco Cloud and it will be first workload that will be going live on Turkcell Edge Cloud. Mavenir claims this vRAN architecture and platform can support 4G as well as both the NSA and SA implementations of 5G NR.

“At Turkcell, we have reached more than 60% virtualization in our mobile core network. We already take great advantage of what virtualization has to offer and are willing to extend the benefits of virtualization coupled with OpenRAN for the next step in Turkcell’s Radio Access Network evolution,” said Gediz Sezgin, Turkcell CTO.

“With its broad experience and expertise in RAN technologies and Network Virtualization, Turkcell will make great contribution for innovation on open vRAN towards 5G era. We are excited to take on and lead this journey.”

Turkcell becomes the latest in a string of companies seeking to drive forward with the OpenRAN technologies, though it is not entirely clear how scaled the deployment will be. There are of course interesting promises being made by the OpenRAN community, though few telcos would be prepared to invest comprehensively during these embryonic stages of development.

To understand where OpenRAN might gain the most traction it would probably be best to look at the regions with the lowest ARPU. Turkey is an interesting market, as according to data from Cable.co.uk, the average price of GB on mobile tariffs is as low as $2.25. This is certainly not as low as some other markets, though it starts to get tricky to drive ROI when data tariffs are below global averages.

The promise of OpenRAN is to commoditise the hardware components of the radio access network, which will allow hardware and software to be decoupled. This should, in theory, reduce the cost of radio deployment and remove any vendor lock-in threats which may still persist. This is an attractive idea for companies who need to rebalance the expenditure/profitability equation.

For the moment it is difficult to see what the long-term position of OpenRAN in the vendor mix will actually be. It is not resilient enough a technology just yet for scaled deployments, though some have suggested enthusiasm for trials is a stick to beat traditional vendors down on price.

In the markets where ROI is disastrously difficult to realise, OpenRAN will certainly play a role in the future, as it will probably in rural regions. Though it does remain to be seen how much of a dent OpenRAN will put into the fortunes of the traditional RAN vendors.

TIP taps out its top achievements

The Facebook-founded Telecom Infra Project has offered an update on all the telecoms stuff it’s up to.

At the top of the list is its OpenRAN project, which promises to disrupt the industry by decoupling many of the component parts of radio access network gear, thus opening it up to greater competition. We’re told the rate of ORAN trials has significantly increased over the past year. On top of that another, related project focusing on disaggregated cell site gateways seems to be motoring along nicely too.

Rather ironically research into things like ORAN has become somewhat disaggregated itself, with other groups like the ORAN Alliance apparently working in parallel to the core TIP efforts, despite sharing most of the same members. Anyway, sensibly they have announced a ‘liaison agreement’, through which they promise not to hide stuff from each other in the area of interoperable 5G RAN solutions.

On top of that the GSMA has promised to muck in too and the OpenStack Foundation and the OpenAirInterface Software Alliance will explore collaboration areas on the newly formed Open Core Network Project Group. All this stuff is covered in a fairly comprehensive blog post by Attilio Zani, Executive Director at TIP​, which was clearly designed to coincide with MWC (RIP). The post includes the diagram below, which seeks to illustrate the scope of projects it’s involved in.

One of the major contributors to the ORAN effort, Mavenir, even had its own announcement designed to coincide with the TIP update. Mavenir has collaborated with Facebook Connectivity, MTI, Deutsche Telekom and others, to launch the Evenstar Remote Radio Head family. It’s intended to accelerate the adoption of ORAN tech by building general-purpose RAN reference designs for 4G and 5G networks.

“The Evenstar program is supported by a group of like-minded organizations that share a common goal of accelerating the adoption of Open RAN,” said Mikael Rylander, SVP and GM of the Radio Access Business Unit at Mavenir. “Through this collaboration, we hope to release RRHs with the latest features and competitive pricing. The Evenstar RRH and the program itself will help level the competition in both technical specification and price.”

“To benefit from next generation, open, disaggregated RAN solutions that can be implemented in various deployment scenarios for 4G and 5G networks, it is important for Deutsche Telekom to work with innovative partners driving ORAN compliant technology,” said Abdurazak Mudesir, SVP Technology Architecture & Innovation at Deutsche Telekom. “This collaboration between the ORAN and TIP communities is an important contribution to grow that ecosystem and accelerate the commercialization of Open RAN technology.”

While the development of novel technologies is usually a fragmented process in its initial stages, TIP and ORAN have been around for a few years now, so this increased collaboration seems overdue. While we still seem a long way from ORAN taking the place of any of the big RAN vendors in commercial networks, the rapid progress it seems to be making will surely be a cause of nervousness.

Mavenir looks to cash in on US xenophobia

At times, US anti-China rhetoric flirts with the line between protectionist and xenophobic, but that won’t bother the likes of Mavenir as it touts its All-American credentials.

It what appears to be a relatively unprompted submission, Mavenir lawyers have filed documents with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stating the firm is as patriotically-US as apple pie, watery lager, high-powered rifles and gas-guzzling jeeps.

The objective here is quite clear; the US political administration does not like China, is prepared to spend big to supercharge an alternative telco vendor to the likes of Huawei or ZTE, and Mavenir wants to get rich as the establishment attempts to drown the success of China’s technology industry under the patronising veil of national security.

It is opportunism at its finest.

“Mavenir noted that it is the industry’s only US-owned, US-headquartered, end-to-end network software provider delivering OpenRAN and virtualized networks,” the filing states.

There are of course other companies who could be deemed American, though it appears they have their own faults. Parallel Wireless, for example, is headquartered in New England, is funded by Californian moneymen, but some of its founders are Indian. It almost ticked all the boxes!

Although it is an unusual strategy from Mavenir, it might work.

US politicians might be losing the political battle to extend its anti-China rhetoric throughout the world but presenting a genuine alternative might be one way to aid this propaganda campaign. An alternative which is also driving forward the attractive OpenRAN technology to add a cherry on top.

While it might still be a technology in its infancy, OpenRAN is capturing the hearts and minds of those who want to force through disruption in the RAN ecosystem. The Nokia/Ericsson/Huawei cartel does not present a significant amount of competition, which OpenRAN could help with, while it could also make the economics of 5G network deployment more attractive.

There are a few initiatives which are progressing around the world. Rakuten is deploying a fully virtualised network with the OpenRAN community at the heart. Admittedly it doesn’t have to worry about legacy technologies muddying the waters, but Vodafone, MTN, Telefonica and Etisalat are attempting to blend OpenRAN into a more traditional network work environment, with legacy complications and all.

Earlier this month, the Democrat Senator for Virginia Mark Warner introduced a new bill to Congress. The Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act will aim to provide $1 billion to create Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE. This is the prize the Mavenir gold-diggers are chasing.

And to sweeten the deal, Mavenir has also suggested it is able to help the poor rural providers dig out the dangerous technology from naughty Huawei and ZTE. We suspect it will all be done for a patriotically attractive price, or at least attractive to the Mavenir swashbucklers.

This is what some might call underhanded PR, a tactic which is more at home on ‘The Thick of It’ than the telecommunications slugfest. But it is an excellent of opportunism, which will probably be successful for the All-American vendor.

What are Boris Johnson’s alternatives to Huawei?

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece John Baker, SVP of Business Development at Mavenir argues that OpenRAN must signal the start of a new cycle for infrastructure vendor market.

For many years now, the telco infrastructure market has been dominated by just three vendors – Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson.  Other firms have fallen by the wayside, unable to compete on price or move fast enough to keep up with changes in technology.

Of course, the mobile ecosystem has always encouraged innovative players to develop new solutions and there are plenty of companies supplying the operator community with specialist network products and services. Having said that, there is no doubt that the operator choices for its end to end Network infrastructure vendor have reduced over the last 10 years.

Now one of those three Network vendors, Huawei, is facing a geopolitical and commercial storm itself. The US government has turned against it for its 5G infrastructure and is putting pressure on other NATO countries to do the same – causing Britain’s PM Boris Johnson to cry out ‘but what are the alternatives?’

Whatever the truth of the matter or the motive for raising it, US fears about hidden spyware or an over-reliance on the technology from a vendor thought to be controlled by a ‘competing nation’ is causing a major market stir and threatening to exclude Huawei from operator tender lists across the USA and Europe.

Commercially, this can be portrayed as good news for Nokia and Ericsson, but it is not quite that straightforward.  Firstly, a reduction to just two vendor choices cannot be good for the market. Secondly, all this is happening at the same time as the technology is rapidly evolving, creating new ways of building networks and delivering services.

Operators concerned about their dwindling source of options for network  infrastructure – and already frustrated by the feeling of being trapped into ‘vendor lock-in’ of hardware-centric solutions – are therefore increasingly attracted to the commercial and technical opportunities of virtualization; and especially to the new breed of vendors emerging with software-centric  solutions.

What’s more there’s a general feeling that the traditional vendors, after naturally taking a protectionist stance to the hardware model that underpins their businesses, are no longer at the leading edge of the technology when it comes to the software-led world of virtualized networks. Ericsson, for example, has so far shied away from embracing OpenRAN – an initiative that allows networks to be built using off-the-shelf servers rather than proprietary boxes.

The OpenRAN initiative is at the heart of the Facebook-led Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP) looking to bridge the digital divide by lowering the cost of mobile network deployment. It’s also been welcomed by Vodafone, as evidenced by the RFP it has issued looking to convert its entire European footprint to an OpenRAN model.

Late last year, analyst Stephane Teral at IHS Markits cited my own company, Mavenir, as being best placed to become the new third choice vendor in the market.  But this revolution in supply is not just about adding one or two new vendors to the supply chain to answer Boris Johnson’s plea.

It’s about the creation of a truly new infrastructure market model.  One where open interfaces, software-led, cloud-based network architectures with end-to-end automation become the new normal.  It’s a wind of change bringing a new cycle in the infrastructure vendor market – giving operators more choice, lower costs, more service flexibility, and a faster return on network investment.

 

John Baker is the Senior Vice President of Business Development at Mavenir. A veteran of the mobile industry, board member for 5G Americas, and sought-after industry speaker, John Baker leads the 5G team at Mavenir, intent on disrupting the market by transforming operator network economics. A visionary and driving force behind Mavenir’s business strategy, John is at the forefront of the company’s drive to change operator views on wireless infrastructure deployment—promoting a software-focused approach to innovation, with no ties to supporting legacy hardware.

O2 joins the OpenRAN movement

O2 is the latest telco to join the increasingly popular OpenRAN cause, suggesting the technology could better serve customers in the hard to reach and heavily-populated areas.

Working with Mavenir, DenseAir and WaveMobile, O2 will aim to deploy the technology in dense urban environments, as well as the smaller, isolated rural communities. Like every telco, O2 is attempted to fine-tune the economics of network deployment as the realities of significant 5G investments start to rear their head.

“Connectivity is a lifeline for consumers and businesses alike and we’re committed to delivering the best possible network experience for our customers,” said O2 CTO, Brendan O’Reilly.

“O-RAN represents a really exciting opportunity to deliver better coverage, in more places, more of the time. By opening up our radio access network to smaller vendors, and as we look towards wider adoption of 5G, O-RAN will be part of the solution to bring the latest connectivity to more people around the country.”

The Mavenir segment of the project will focus on high-density environments in London. The objective will be to provide enhanced mobile connectivity and better customer experience in high-traffic areas such as stadiums and shopping centres.

“Densification of coverage in cities is a challenge but OpenRAN is ready to take it forward and Mavenir is proud to work with O2,” said Stefano Cantarelli, CMO of Mavenir.

O2 has said the WaveMobile OpenRAN technology is currently active on several sites across the UK including Woldingham in Surrey, and the solution could be used to provide connectivity services in ‘not spots’ in the future.

OpenRAN is increasingly looking like an attractive idea not only because of the technological benefits, but also the commercial. Firstly, opening-up the network to new suppliers will encourage innovation in new areas, and secondly, it puts pressure on current suppliers to negotiate more favourable terms with telcos.

Some might call it cynical, but there have been suggestions that Vodafone’s aggressive move towards OpenRAN is a ploy to gain the upper-hand during negotiations with the likes of Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia. These traditional suppliers will of course want to hold onto contracts, and prevent money heading towards the likes of Mavenir, Parallel Wireless and Altiostar. Success breeds success after all.

The more noise makes about OpenRAN as a realistic alternative to the status quo, the more nervous traditional RAN vendors will be. But this is not to say OpenRAN will not take its place in future networks on its own technological merit, it is just a factor which is worth bearing in mind.

Although O2 should certainly be categorised as an early adopter of the technology, there are other existing projects worth noting.

Rakuten will soon become the fourth mobile player in the Japanese market, with its network deployment driven by OpenRAN. Few have the luxury of a greenfield approach like this, but that has not stopped Vodafone deploying OpenRAN in the UK, DRC, Mozambique, South Africa or Turkey. Similarly, Etisalat in the UAE recently announced it was working with NEC, Cisco and Altiostar to deploy the open technology in its own networks.

And over in the US, various Senators and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been plugging the technology as an alternative for Huawei. Senator Mark Warner recently tabled a bill in Congress which would direct as much as $1 billion toward the OpenRAN community. It will not replace the traditional RAN ecosystem any time soon, but OpenRAN is here and here to stay.

O2 expects the commercial deployment of OpenRAN to accelerate over the next 18-24 months. This might be bad news for the traditional RAN vendors, but with Mobile World Congress kicking off in just over a month, there might be a few more announcements in the pipeline.

Vodafone searches for supply chain rejig through OpenRAN

Vodafone has announced it will introduce OpenRAN technology in various parts of its UK network, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mozambique.

In what appears to be an effort to break down barriers to work with new vendors, Vodafone will seek to empower the ecosystem through the introduction of commoditised hardware. This is the first trial of the technology in a ‘developed’ market, leaning on trials which have taken place in Turkey and South Africa.

“We are pleased with trials of OpenRAN and are ready to fast track it into Europe as we seek to actively expand our vendor ecosystem,” said Vodafone CEO Nick Read.

“OpenRAN improves the network economics enabling us to reach more people in rural communities and that supports our goal to build digital societies in which no-one is left behind.”

Launched through the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), the OpenRAN initiative aims to build 2G, 3G and 4G RAN solutions based on a general-purpose vendor-neutral hardware and software-defined technology. With vendor-neutral hardware hitting the networks, the aim is to reduce reliance on a small number of vendors, de-couple the hardware and software components of the network more stringently and reduce the vast expenditure made on network infrastructure.

The UK trial will focus on rural locations, perhaps to reduce the exposure of failure. These are also the cell sites which will cost the most and offer the smallest profits. There is a lot to gain here, while the consequence of failure will be limited.

“Encouraging the emergence of new suppliers would give operators greater choice in a far healthier ecosystem,” said Kester Mann of CCS Insight. “Disrupting the status quo could, in particular, make the economics of network deployment stack up in rural areas or hard-to-reach locations, for which roll-out may not currently be viable or cost effective.

“Improving network economics and better monetising infrastructure assets is an important focus of Vodafone CEO Nick Read as the company seeks to achieve ambitious cost-saving targets.”

Like many of the worlds’ telcos, Vodafone is slowing stumbling towards a tricky situation with its supply chain, though many of the issues are outside the control of the company. With Huawei under increasing pressure, the future does look glum for a segment of the ecosystem which is already under-populated.

However, the telcos are not completely blameless in this situation. Investments have been concentrated with the three major vendors in this space (Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia). Through prioritising these companies as primary vendors, challengers have not been given the opportunity to scale and compete. Another complaint levelled at the telcos has been a comprehensive and convoluted procurement process, which has inhibited the ability of smaller players to compete against the status quo.

When the industry is running smoothly, few would have complained with the concentration of investment to a small number of vendors, but there are wrenches being thrown into the works all over the place.

With Huawei potentially facing bans in numerous countries and its supply chain being compromised thanks to the entry onto the US Entity List, a major vendor is under threat. Although Huawei has confirmed it is producing products free of US components, the performance of this equipment is unknown for the moment. Worst-case scenario, the vendor community could become a lot smaller.

Vodafone is one company which does look to be exposed to the Huawei conundrum. UK CTO Scott Petty has said banning Huawei would set the company back two years in its quest for 5G, costing millions as the company would be forced to strip the vendors equipment out of its network. Huawei equipment currently accounts for 32% of the 18,000 base stations around the country, though it has plans to strip Nokia equipment out, with Ericsson taking the rest.

Only working with two suppliers is a precarious situation, though this is compounded when you look at the difficulties Huawei is facing. The introduction of OpenRAN might be considered a bold move, but it is starting to look very necessary to enable access to more vendors.

The trials in the UK, DRC and Mozambique will focus on mobile calls and data services across 2G, 3G and 4G, with 5G possible over OpenRAN in the future. OpenRAN could be debuted elsewhere across Europe dependent on the success of the trials in the UK.

The team have currently identified 100+ rural locations to trial the technology, though this could be expanded in the future. Vodafone has said OpenRAN could reduce network hardware costs by up to a third, but this is dependent on how the technology and supplier ecosystem develops over time. Mavenir, Parallell Wireless and Lime Microsystems are three new suppliers enabled by the trials, though there are a huge number of start-ups who are connected to TIP.

Although this is a small trial for the moment, it is certainly one worth keeping an eye on. Vodafone is in a slightly tricky position when it comes to its supply chain, though should OpenRAN prove to be successful, numerous options could be opened-up. It is a low risk gamble, though the gains of a new supply chain certainly outweigh the consequence of failure.