Parallel Wireless fights for Open RAN leadership with Peruvian win

Parallel Wireless is arguably carving out a leadership position in the increasingly popular Open RAN movement as it bags another contract in Peru.

The likes of Mavenir, NEC, Altiostar and Cisco are all vying for attention as the new infrastructure trend gathers steam, but it is Parallel Wireless who’s name keeps popping up all over the world. This week, the vendor has announced an agreement with Internet para Todos Perú (IpT Peru), a new telco owned by Telefonica, Facebook, IDB Invest and CAF.

“We have selected Parallel Wireless Open RAN to help us reduce our network deployment costs through disaggregation of hardware and software, RAN and core virtualization and network automation with real-time SON for deployments across Latin America and 5G readiness,” said Renan Ruiz, CTO of IpT.

“We are proud to have been selected for these deployments in Latin America to deliver quality wireless services to the end users and businesses through better communication and collaboration between ‘development’ and ‘operations’ groups by enabling the CI/CD based operating model,” said Steve Papa, CEO of Parallel Wireless. “The end goal is to help global MNOs build and release software at high velocity. without making extensive capital investments or incur ongoing maintenance cost associated with legacy network deployments.”

The new telco, IpT, is an effort by the four players to seek revenues in a market which has been notoriously difficult to find success. South America is another region where the digital divide is very evident, though with new technologies gaining maturity, connectivity is becoming more of a commercial reality.

While it may seem unusual to see Facebook associated with these projects, the social media giant has been the driving force behind the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), an organisation where the mission is to deliver the internet to all. Part of this mission is Open RAN, to decouple hardware from software in the network, helping to reduce deployment costs and improve maintenance.

When you tie all of these elements together, it means internet for more people. And internet for more people means more advertising opportunities for Facebook and its customers. As you can only serve so many ads to a single user without destroying the experience, Facebook has to introduce more services and attract more users to continue growth. It is attempting to do both, and Open RAN is proving to be an important component to ‘connect the next billion users’.

Irrelevant as to whether the ambitions of these projects are philanthropic or commercial, the end result is more people accessing the digital economy, which shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing. Open RAN is increasingly becoming a mature technology, and while it might not be ready for the more developed markets where telcos still rely on the resilience of the tried and tested traditional RAN, there is traction in the developing markets.

Looking around the world, Parallel Wireless does seem to be one of the more popular vendors in these embryonic test beds.

With Vodafone, Parallel Wireless has been drafted in to help run trials in the UK business and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is also one of the partners drafted in to help MTN deploy OpenRAN over 5,000 sites in 21 markets and was also recently named as the main partner for Etisalat to trial the technology across its markets in Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Mavenir, Cisco and NEC might be making a significant amount of noise in the press for OpenRAN, though Parallel Wireless seems to be making more waves with deals and active trials. It is always worth noting that not all deals and trials will be proclaimed from the treetops, on the evidence which is available to use Parallel Wireless has arguably taken an early leadership position.

Etisalat goes big on OpenRAN with Parallel Wireless

Operator group Etisalat is trialing OpenRAN tech across its markets in Middle East, Asia and Africa in partnership with ORAN specialist Parallel Wireless.

One of the reasons for this sudden keenness on ORAN, which seeks to unbundle the components and software inside the radio access network with a view to making it cheaper and more flexible, is apparently the concept of ‘All G’. That refers the convergence of all generations of cellular technology onto a single software platform, which would both save cash and simplify network management.

“Today’s announcement is a global achievement setting a technological benchmark across our markets,” said Hatem Bamatraf, CTO of Etisalat International. “This is in line with our long-term strategy and vision of ‘Driving the Digital Future to empower societies’ that has translated to provide the best-in-class customer experience and deliver best value to our shareholders.

The global trials of OpenRAN with Parallel Wireless reiterate Etisalat’s commitment to our vision encouraging us to take the lead in OpenRAN by conducting field trials with various leading technology partners to create an innovative ecosystem in all of our markets. This is also the world’s first ‘All G’ OpenRAN set to provide efficiency and cost benefits for 4G and 5G in addition to setting a roadmap for the next generation of telecom networks.”

This looks like a significant win for Parallel, which is all-in on ORAN. Most of the telecoms industry (bar, maybe, the big RAN vendors) is keen on the concept of commoditising the RAN such that you can pick and choose your components and software. But we still seem to be some way from ORAN being able to support commercial mobile networks, so the key for companies like Parallel is to maintain momentum and interest while the technology evolves.

“As one of the leading communication providers in the emerging markets, Etisalat understands the true potential of greater leverage to their business, in both high end and low-end markets with a greater buying power by shaping the telecom ecosystem and embracing new network architectures, such as OpenRAN,” said Amrit Heer, Sales Director, MENA at Parallel Wireless.

“We are proud to have partnered with Etisalat for these engagements to deliver coverage and capacity without making extensive capital investments associated with legacy network deployments. We are proud to have been selected to support Etisalat in reimagining wireless infrastructure to be much lower cost ensuring access to innovative digital services in the region.”

ORAN is one to keep an eye on in the coming months and years. It represents a significant threat to the business models of the big RAN vendors, who sell ‘closed’ RAN solutions that require you to go all-in with them. At the very least the prospect of ORAN is a useful stick for operators to beat their vendor partners down on price with and we had expected it to be a major talking point at MWC 2020.

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.