In an OpenRAN sector that many believe will shape the telecom industry in the coming years, pioneer Mavenir just took a step forward… even if it looked to previous mobile-communications generations to do it.
Support for 4G, 5G and 2G, 3G
On the strength of its acquisition of RAN software developer ip.access, Mavenir announced its broadband suite for 4G and 5G will now also cover 2G and 3G mobile technologies for both radio access and packet core. Senior Vice-President of Business Development John Baker likened the addition to that of an app.
“I talk about it as the app store for base stations and actually what we’re doing is putting another two apps on top of the two we already have,” he said, speaking to 6GWorld. He also clarified how the solution can be considered “future-proof.”
“One thing that we’ve seen with OpenRAN, for instance, we started with 4G. We can put 5G software on there, but from an operator’s perspective, they’ve got to go change the radio on the tower,” he said. “So, the goal with what we’re doing now with 2G, 3G is just to add that software functionality on there, use exactly the same radio on the tower, use exactly the same compute.”
Of course, even if 5G is in the process of rolling out, 2G and 3G still factors into present technology, leading to issues with legacy equipment. Baker cited people in developing countries still being reliant on 2G phones for voice, but also the UK having built most of its electricity meters with 2G modems, resulting in a need to accommodate those networks as well.
Mavenir, who was one of the founding member companies of the O-RAN Alliance, acts in an official capacity as a contributor, as the association is run by operators. Mavenir joins Parallel Wireless, a rival U.S.-based cloud-native network software provider, in terms of “All G” support relative to their respective OpenRAN solutions.
OpenRAN Gains Momentum
The entire OpenRAN sector, which promotes open, vendor-neutral platforms in which components from different suppliers can be used for greater flexibility, has gained momentum in recent months. The Federal Communications Commission even hosted a forum on the matter. Speaking at the recent 6G Symposium, Chairman Ajit Pai relayed what he sees as the benefits of the technology.
“The consensus that came out of [the forum] was that this technology is not just abstract. It’s real. It is now. It offers savings in terms of cost, puts the keys to security in the hands of the network operators, and in particular for those standalone operators it creates an advantage actually, because you don’t have to be saddled with some of the limitations or constraints of the architecture,” he said. “The incumbents are going to have to be agile. They can’t just sit on their laurels, and that’s a good thing for the consumer at the end of the day.”
One such incumbent, Ericsson, recently announced an impending move into the sector, with plans to launch a Cloud RAN portfolio in a year in line with OpenRAN interfaces. Baker said it’s a sign of the times.
“Part of it is that operators are now putting out [Requests for Information; RFIs], [Requests for Quotation; RFQs], that if you don’t have an OpenRAN offering that you can’t respond to those RFIs and RFQs. How much future business are they missing out on? So, in that sense, you’ve got to have something that will keep you in the discussion with those customers,” he said.
The Evolution of Mobile Networks
In fact, ABI Research recently predicted OpenRAN radio unit sales will exceed US$47 billion by 2026, outpacing the traditional RAN market by 2028. A separate study by RAN Research estimated the technology will be deployed at 65% of all sites, also by 2026. However, the latter report, while bullish, also argued the shift will be gradual, with open interfaces to first be introduced to secondary or small-cell networks, for example.
Meanwhile, many analysts see OpenRAN as a primarily rural solution for the next few years. Part of it has to do with the projected emergence of Massive MIMO, in which many operators are expected to invest heavily because of how well it works with midband spectrum. In dense environments like cities, Massive MIMO will reportedly require networks that don’t support OpenRAN. In response, Baker said that Mavenir is actually working on an OpenRAN, Massive MIMO product right now.
“We’ll have something early next year in terms of a product for the marketplace. So, yeah, the OpenRAN guys are working on it just as hard as the existing [Original Equipment Manufacturers],” he said. “We have a team that has already built a commercial MIMO product. So, in that sense, we’re looking at the next generation of MIMO products that are going to be competitive in the marketplace,” he said.
Baker added that he sees Massive MIMO having a real benefit, but also as a technology that will likewise grow over time and be phased in by 2023 or 2024. He said it must be put into perspective timeline-wise.
“I always say it’s not a revolution, it’s evolution. Investments have already been made in a lot of equipment that’s out there in networks […] The nice thing about what we have is the ability to overlay on existing networks and then slowly cost and scale go into play.”