Mavenir fills Dish with open RAN, eyes core for dessert

Mavenir CEO Pardeep Kohli speaks to TMN on the company's latest Open RAN wins.

Mavenir’s CEO Pardeep Kohli has said the company could yet provide the entire radio software for US operator Dish. And he thinks they are a “good chance” to win some of Dish’s core network business as well.

Dish and Mavenir announced today that the two companies have agreed that Mavenir will be a supplier of radio software to Dish as the company looks to roll out a near- nationwide 5G network. (Rich in lowband spectrum, and boosted by further spectrum and customers from the Sprint-T-Mobile merger, Dish has committed to “deploy a facilities-based 5G broadband network capable of serving 70 percent of the U.S. population by June 2023″.)

The announcement didn’t say if Mavenir is or will be the sole vRAN provider – as Altiostar is to Rakuten in Japan, another example of a greenfield operator that went with a vRAN open architecture.

Kohli said of Dish’s radio vendor selection, “They have not announced anybody else and I don’t think there’s anybody else but on the other hand, you know, this is this the beauty of the open architecture – it’s software.

“So, our software is going to run on general purpose hardware and the good thing about that is that actually incumbency doesn’t matter a whole lot because, you know, if [other] software is better then somebody can easily replace us or we can replace somebody else. As long as the radiohead on the tower is fine, then the software in the back end can be easily manipulated. So from that perspective, I think our value is more on making it all work first and then making it fully orchestrated, to show them the benefits.”

Kohli went on to hint that the company also has its eye on the core side of the network.

“They’ve selected us on the radio side. And you know we are a big player in the US on the core side so I think we have a good chance of winning that business. But for now we have announced only for the radio side; right now the priority is mainly with the radio, and then, of course, as you build out the radio side you build out the core.”

Kohli said that Dish’s buildout would encompass about 30-50,000 antenna or tower sites, and the architecture that Dish chooses is likely to be determined by fibre availability to the site. Sites with fibre may benefit from a more centralised vBBU deployment whereas remote sites that require microwave links may need to have most of the software at the site.

“But it’s the same software,” he added, “and it’s still running on general purpose hardware.”

Kohli said that he cannot speak for Dish but he said that if they want sites to go live this year, then Mavenir will be ready. And he said that the company already has a live 5G deployment in another country. That is quite a step forward in readiness for Mavenir, which opened up 5G NR development centre  in Europe last year with demonstrations of a virtualised L1 software on a commercial server.

“That was eight months ago [it was six, in fact, since the public launch], and we’ve grown the team quite significantly,” Kohli said, saying that the radio business unit has grown from 150 then to close to 600 now.

Vodafone Idea

As well as its announcement with Dish, Mavenir announced that it would be expanding Open RAN work with Vodadone Idea in India.

“We have been working with them almost since March last year and we have had live sites since December,” Kohli said, “So now they’re taking it and expanding.” As with Dish, Kohli said there is no firm commitment in terms of numbers of sites.

“But on the other hand, the requirement is huge, and they are growing fast.”

He said one way they can do that is run the Open RAN deployment in unused TDD spectrum as an overlay on the existing FDD bands.  Kohli: “That gives us an opportunity because you could be an overlay on top of existing vendors who could be doing FDD.”

More spectrum could also come from refarmed 3G spectrum that is cleared for LTE use.

“Things can move a lot faster in India than Europe, where the entry point [for Open RAN solutions] can be less clear. But for Vodafone Idea cost matters, the ease of use matters and flexibility matters. So  in that sense they’re looking for new technology and at how fast can they add more capacity. They have many dynamics because they’re migrating subscribers from 3G to 4G and  that’s opening up new spectrum. So the way the network is today and with what their requirements are – you can bring in a new vendor as an overlay a lot faster.”

Vodafone Idea has around 300 million customers, and has been in financial strife of late for a number of reasons, some related to liability for backdated license fees, and some to hard competition from Reliance Jio, which has just taken a 10% investment from Facebook that valued it at around $60 billion. Vodafone Group  said today that it would be forwarding £200 million to its Indian subsidiary to boost the company’s liquidity.