Benetel spies Open RAN Radio Unit opportunity

Irish company will manufacture an O-RAN Radio Unit for indoor deployments. With more to come.

Small cell and radio hardware designer Benetel is getting into the Open RAN Radio Unit (RU) market with a family of products aimed at the indoor market. The products will be available from January 2021.

The company is launching the RAN550 indoor RU, an O-RAN compliant RU that has 100MHz channel bandwidth with 4T/4R antenna operation in sub 6GHz spectrum bands (n78 at launch, with n77 and n79 to follow). The units are under three litres in size, with 250mW power per antenna port, and can be wall or ceiling-mounted.

We see the Open RAN market as an opportunity for innovative, agile, specialist RU providers like Benetel

Adrian O’Connor, CEO, said that the company sees the developing Open RAN ecosystem, and the need for indoor coverage in 5G, as providing key context for the launch.

“Over the years we have designed femto base stations for our customers who have then brought them to high volume. We have also provided hardware to many systems integrators and OEMs who have then branded these solutions as their own. 

“With the advent of Open RAN we saw an opportunity as a company to become a differentiated, innovative, RU provider and we have invested heavily in past 2-3 years in this direction, targeting the RU side of Open RAN. We see the Open RAN market as an opportunity for innovative, agile, specialist RU providers like Benetel.”

What we’re introducing now is our RAN550 product which is aimed at bringing coverage indoors. We are seeing that indoor QoS can no longer be a secondary thought in the 5G era, as enterprise requirements need to be satisfied. There is a strong motivation for operators and business owners to invest in indoor to the same extent as outdoor.

Although Benetel has chosen to prioritise an indoor product first, it also has an outdoor solution which will be announced in the coming months, O’Connor added.

The product itself is a Benetel creation, compliant with O-RAN specs, and including its own technology.

“It’s a Benetel L1 implementation. That was one of the big pieces of work we undertook, to develop that in an FPGA piece. We have developed our own algorithm, our own chip design at an FPGA level, and then everything else is our own hardware. And then we support the three types of fronthaul compression specified by the O-RAN standard.”

Benetel’s experience in developing its own L1 technology is a key reason for the product launch, O’Connor said.

“One of the blocks in the market is that there isn’t merchant silicon yet for that lower layer, and that had stopped a lot of people from moving there – and that’s a capability that we have developed inside. There are a number of different chips in the works, but none of them are ready. We believe there’s a position to stake out by developing that IP and having a product early in the market. Eventually there will be opportunities to integrate those solutions from merchant players when they are ready.”

O’Connor said that Benetel sees itself very much as one player within an ecosystem – the company has already integrated the RU with DU/CUs from Radisys and Altran, he said. “We have formed a number of different partnerships with a lot of players, with Radisys and Altran, with Mavenir, with Phluido and some of the newer players like Accelleran, providing an end to end solution. So we are open to this overall ecosystem and we see ourselves fulfilling a function within that.” 

The company may have a new O-RAN product, but O’Connor is keen to emphasise that it is not new to Open RAN and O-RAN.

“Almost three years we started off in the TIP programme for vRAN for non-ideal fronthaul, and then later on as O-RAN was formed, we joined and in 2019 demonstrated a 7.2 split implementation with 4G, and we won a SCF award for our contribution to the open ecosystem. Earlier this year we brought out a 5G evaluation system based on open standards, which a number of our customers have purchased and built in their own labs. And now we are taking that a step forward to a fully defined, 5G Split 7.2 O-RAN product.” 

O’Connor added that the company’s European status may also give it an advantage in certain markets. “One of the interesting aspects that has emerged in 2020 is the fact that we are a European vendor. Our product is designed, manufactured and tested in Europe.”

However, he added that manufacturing in Europe doesn’t have to make the product more expensive than Chinese or Taiwanese products.

“From all the work we’ve undertaken over the years designing product for our femtocell customers, we believe we have a good understanding of where we need to be and the types of design implementations we need to take. We believe we are as well positioned as any other. Yes we are producing in Europe but we are also producing in, let us say, lower cost European countries. So we believe we’re going to be as competitive as anybody else in the market.”