Can 5G bring about opportunity for new players in the Radio Access Market? One company that thinks it can be just such a new entrant is perhaps a surprising name – Mavenir.
Mavenir, better known for its core network and signalling solutions, recently emerged from a series of mergers and de-mergers as an end-to-end network software provider, and that means it now combines the soft core for which it is better known with a software defined C-RAN solution.
The company, which completed its acquisition of vRAN developer Ranzure in early 2017, has brought in ex-Nokia veteran John Baker to head up its business development team for the radio end of things. At the recent 5G World event in London it bought the lanyard sponsorship and was asking visitors if they were “5G Ready”. Allying its sofware-defined C-RAN to 5G is clearly the intention.
Baker told TMN that Mavenir wants to compete against the established RAN vendors by providing a software-defined, Cloud-RAN solution based on open interfaces. It is pinning its hopes on a desire amongst operators to leverage 5G to bring about much lower cost radio infrastructure, using an open software based model upon common hardware.
All that said, with the main vendors all pushing ahead on near commercial 5G 3GPP New Radio products, and on 5GTF-specific Fixed Wireless Access radio, will there be space for the new entrants to rise in the 5G RAN?
Baker says that on the RAN he is “very bullish”, especially in “greenfield” 5G deployments where the lack of a legacy architecture could see open interfaces enter the radio network. By open interfaces, Baker means breaking down the internal interfaces between elements in the RAN so that RAN hardware such as RRUs and COTS servers can be purchased by mobile network operators independent of baseband software.
Mavenir could change the way operators think about the RAN in the same way it changed thinking about IMS, Baker said. It would be working with third parties to supply the actual radio, “and the rest is just software”. The company also thinks it can innovate with SDR techniques across the fronthaul, “concatenating the fronthaul interface” to be able to support Ethernet based fronthaul instead of CPRI – something it labels SmartSplit.
Of the proposed functional splits for C-RAN fronthaul, Baker says Mavenir “supports three of the splits – the best for us is split 7.” This option – the intra PHY split – sites part of the physical layer function and RF in the distributed unit, with upper layers in the central unit. Mavenir also supports the Small Cell Forum’s nFAPI interface to allow connection from other RRU vendors to the BBU.
However, Mavenir isn’t yet bold enough to think it can take on the main vendors in major macro-type deployments. Instead, Baker said it sees its initial opportunity in applications such as private networks, indoor and in unlicensed and shared spectrum applications. With the vendor already providing “everything up to the front of the EPC commercially”, adding the software RAN as virtualised elements could mean operators could deploy a complete network on a single blade – something that could be very attractive to operators targeting the enterprise space.
Mavenir is not alone in promoting an open interface based radio architecture. It is one of a cluster of vendor and operators contributing to the xRAN project. xRAN is building a software-defined radio model that decouples the RAN control plane from the user plane, builds a modular eNB software stack that operates on common-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and publishes open north and southbound interfaces to the industry
Facebook’s TIP is also aiming to use open architectures to produce much lower cost infrastructure, with the aim of connecting previously unconnected areas. (https://code.facebook.com/posts/1754757044806180/introducing-opencellular-an-open-source-wireless-access-platform/)
Another xRAN member, Altiostar, has worked with SK Telesys and SK Telecom on its SDRAN (Software Defined RAN) platform, via which SKT hopes to establish an open procurement model giving flexibility in choosing best of breed hardware platforms for their RAN while reducing costs significantly.
Altiostar’s Open vRAN Development Platform includes all the RAN software, virtual baseband unit (vBBU) and drivers for any RAN equipment manufacturer to integrate their RRUs with an established vRAN solution.
“SDRAN architecture opens up the RAN eco-ystem and provides opportunity to specialist radio companies like SK Telesys to provide innovative RRUs to the operators in a cost effective manner,” Myoung Hoon Kang, Vice President, Head of R&D Division, SK Telesys, said.