Dish Network said it would use open radio access network (RAN) technology from Mavenir to manage its 5G network antennas across the US. The news is notable as it represents Dish's first vendor announcement for its planned network, which Mavenir boasted would be "the world's largest cloud-native open RAN 5G network."
"Mavenir will help us lay the foundation for an innovative software-defined network with the flexibility, intelligence and scalability to deliver applications that will redefine the US wireless industry," said Marc Rouanne, Dish's chief network officer, in a release. Dish hired Rouanne, previously of Nokia, last year to lead the construction of its 5G network.
Open RAN technology promises to decouple software from hardware, allowing network operators to reduce costs by using standardized hardware running software from a variety of vendors. Thus, Dish's selection of Mavenir, instead of a major vendor like Nokia or Ericsson, indicates the company is following through on its efforts to build an "open" network similar to the one Rakuten built in Japan.
"We will use Mavenir's open RAN-compliant radio software, which is software that controls the radios," a Dish spokesperson explained in an email to Light Reading, in response to questions about the transaction. "This Mavenir software can run on Intel processors today, and we can place it where we need, at the tower or in the cloud. The software is cloud native, which means we can use the most modern software to manage it automatically. With this software, we can source radios for the towers from any open RAN-compliant RF hardware vendor, and we can use any COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] computers to run it."
Pardeep Kohli, president and CEO of Mavenir, told Light Reading that the company's software will run inside Dish's basestations to control the company's 5G transmitters. He said the software can work either in a centralized location where backhaul is available through fiber or in the transmission site itself if backhaul is conducted wirelessly.
Importantly, he said Mavenir will be paid by Dish based on the number of 5G sites Dish constructs using its software, though he declined to provide any more specifics about the deal. He added that, if Dish builds a nationwide 5G network in the US, the company would become Mavenir's second- or third-largest customer.
Why this matters
The announcement is important to Dish because it indicates the company is serious about moving forward with its plan to build a nationwide 5G network. Although Dish has been collecting a vast trove of spectrum licenses during the past decade, it has not put any of that spectrum to use in a commercial network.
That changed in the summer of last year when Dish agreed to replace Sprint as the nation's fourth nationwide wireless network operator, an agreement the company reached with T-Mobile as part of T-Mobile's efforts to close its merger with Sprint.
The closing of T-Mobile's merger with Sprint on April 1 essentially puts Dish on the hook to follow through with its promise to build a nationwide wireless network.
And Dish doesn't have much time: Dish has promised to cover 20% of the US population with 5G by June 2022.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic could affect Dish's 5G buildout plans.
For Mavenir, the company's agreement with Dish represents a giant feather in its cap. Mavenir has been working to sell software-based networking services to mobile network operators across the world, with varying degrees of success.
But Dish naming the company as its first vendor gives Mavenir a major boost, considering Dish's network will cost at least $10 billion to build and will cover far more territory than most other wireless networks in smaller countries like those in Europe.
To be clear, Dish will need to engage with other vendors for its 5G buildout including basestation vendors, antenna vendors, core network vendors, backhaul vendors, transport vendors and tower owners.
Indeed, Mavenir has acknowledged it doesn't make any physical 5G transmission equipment. "Availability of radios in the US bands is a fundamental US weakness," the company wrote to the FCC regarding the agency's plan to rip out Huawei equipment in the US and replace it with equipment from "trusted" vendors. Mavenir urged policymakers to encourage the development of "low cost US managed volume manufacture of radios" that could run its software.
Dish executives have touted their intention to use US-based suppliers for the company's 5G network, a position that capitalizes on US lawmakers' notion of a race against China to 5G.