Hard-charging Open RAN and virtual RAN company Mavenir has bought ip.access, the veteran UK-based small cells and RAN software developer.
Mavenir’s Aniruddho Basu, SVP and GM Emerging Business, said that the acquisition gives Mavenir access to 2G and 3G radio technology that will help it meet operator demands for single RAN, multi RAT, Open RAN providers. Mavenir has concentrated to date on 4G and then 5G. It sees the 2/3G capability as important in unlocking contracts where the whole range is important. That’s especially the case where there are greenfield developments in rural or remote areas, or where countries are looking to replace incumbent providers in the network because of limitations on high risk vendors.
In that respect, the acquisition puts Mavenir on a level with Parallel Wireless, which has been marketing its “All-G” capability for a while now, and which has won specific emerging market and rural opportunities with the multi-RAT play.
ip.access CEO Richard Staveley said that ip.access has been securing success already with its own multi-RAT technology, securing 10 MNO contracts in the past year, with several in sub-Saharan Africa. That will certainly aid Mavenir as it works to move beyond TIP-based Open Cellular trial projects to more commercial deals.
Nick Johson, ip.access CTO, said that the company would have some development work to do to scale up the company’s technology from its current small cells focus to be operational in a macro and Open RAN environment. “There’s a bit of evolution to be done, for sure,” Johnson said. But he added that ip.access’s software-centric approach, something Basu also mentioned, will make that feasible.
ip.access has a virtualised gateway architecture that handles management and orchestration of access points on COTS hardware. “The benefit of being software-based on a COTS platform is that it can scale, so we can scale for more users over a longer range, with more features as well,” Johnson said.
CEO Staveley added, “There is further work to do to make [the product] a carrier grade, macro Open RAN play, but that’s exactly the kind of project we will be more than capable of as combined entities.”
The second main motivation for the deal is that Mavenir wants a small cell capability to address the private networks opportunity, from 5G to CBRS. “Carrier-led or private enterprise-owned Private Networks will be more and more relevant in the coming 24 months. So we will really depend on and work with ip.access on this,” Basu added. Not touched on here, but something that is bound to be relevant, is that small cells too are facing the same drivers for open interface-based disaggregation as we have seen in the macro Open RAN. Just this week Small Cell Forum released its nFAPI interface, based on 3GPP split option 6. (Mavenir supports splits 7.2 and 2 for its vRAN software units so far). Johnson and ip.access have a world of knowledge in this area.
A further aspect is that Mavenir gets access to the 50+ customers ip.access has, including its diverse, non-MNO base in public safety, maritime and aviation markets.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Basu said that “both sides are very happy” with the deal.
Although ip.access has long been viewed as an acquisition target, Staveley said that there was no immediate pressure from investors to sell the company, although he did state that ip.access has had Mavenir on its radar as a potential acquirer for 18 months. That relationship seems to have really got off the ground when both companies worked together on Vodafone UK’s Open RAN pilot projects that were made public in August.
Certainly neither side would portray the acquisition as the larger company picking up an asset and stripping it for its technology and IP. Basu said that he wants to see ip.access grow its capabilities as a standalone business unit within the company. ip.access was attractive precisely because it is a going concern with a good brand and customer base, he said. He wants to see that continue, and said he had seen enough acquisitions during his time at Ericsson to know what works and what doesn’t.
The acquisition means that one of the longest standing independent small cells and RAN software developer, ip.access, is independent no longer. The company, founded around 20 years ago as a spin off from Cambridge, UK-based TTPCom, has seen a number of exit opportunities go past it over the years. Most of its small cells competitors have fallen or been swallowed up along the way, notably in 2013 when Cisco, an investor in ip.access at the time, side-stepped an acquisition and instead bought Ubiquisys. Staveley, working as VP sales and partnerships at Ubiquisys when Cisco bought that company, joined ip.access in April 2018 with a brief to find strategic options for the company.
Johnson, an original founder of the company, said, “We have always served the operator business and found ourselves diversifying as the opportunity has presented itself. The next step is to scale up, whilst bringing our complimentary technology, skills and market view to Mavenir.”