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Leading Lights 2020 Finalists: Most Innovative 5G Technology

It's no secret that 5G represents the pinnacle of cellular technology today. Indeed, all of the other Gs (2G, 3G, 4G... you get the idea) have been building to this one.

What this means is that all of the technologies that comprise the 5G standard stand on the achievements of every wireless network engineer since the very, very early days of cellular. It's quite a place to be.

And what will all this technology do? If you ask industry skeptics, 5G will be slightly faster and probably no more profitable than 4G. But for those sold on the technology's opportunity, 5G will connect all manner of things, enabling what some argue will be the "fourth industrial revolution."

Either way, 5G includes some truly impressive technological innovations, from the arcane to the head-spinning. Thus, here are the eight companies that have been shortlisted for Light Reading's "Most Innovative 5G Technology" for their efforts in this area:

The Leading Lights winners, and the identities of this year's Light Reading Hall of Fame inductees, will be announced online, on August 21, during a special video presentation on http://www.lightreading.com, one month before the start of the Big 5G Event.

Here's a closer look at the companies shortlisted in the Most Innovative 5G Technology category:

Altiostar Networks
Altiostar has a front-row seat to what is potentially the industry's most compelling 5G technology development: open RAN. Instead of vertically integrated solutions from a single provider, open RAN promises to break up networks into their various components, thus allowing operators to mix and match network products from different suppliers. Into this trend, Altiostar has supplied software for the operation of massive MIMO technology in 5G via advanced antenna and cloud principles – high-end open RAN technology that could pave the way for a new design of networks in the future. And perhaps most importantly, Altiostar's technology is being commercially deployed by Japan's Rakuten, a new, closely watched player on the world's 5G stage.

Arrcus
Whereas 4G very much runs on standard telecom hardware, 5G is designed to take wireless into the webscale world by supporting network elements running in cloud architecture. It's essentially a network inside a datacenter, and it promises to seriously upend legacy telecom networks. Into this trend steps Acccus with its ArcOS, which it boasts of using modern architectural networking tenets to offer simple, scalable, secure and seamless carrier-grade networking. Moreover, the platform sports ArcIQ, which Arrcus says uses analytics to automate network operations via real-time visibility, control and security. It's these kinds of webscale offerings that are increasingly wending their way into the wireless industry thanks to the framework created by the transition to 5G.

Enea
As 4G and 5G operators step into their high-speed future, they're facing a complex challenge when it comes to connecting all manner of customers and things. Indeed, in the much-ballyhooed 5G future, everything is connected to a 5G network, ranging from cars to phones to tablets to robots. It's that complexity that Enea is looking to address with its Unified Data Manager (UDM). The company said the offering can support up to 10 billion data entries at a rate of 1 to 500,000 transactions per second – those are the kinds of numbers that 4G and 5G operators may well need to deal with in the coming months and years, as 5G increasingly creates a connected landscape. Naturally, Enea boasts that its UDM offering can also run across legacy 4G platforms as well as fancy new software- and cloud-architected 5G offerings.

Etiya
One of the key selling points around 5G is the opportunity for operators to sell networking by the "slice." This kind of service promises to separate out connectivity based on the exact parameters demanded by enterprise customers ranging from automobile companies to manufacturing concerns. After all, their usage of the network will be much different than a teenager with her smartphone.

Etiya enters this opportunity with its "5G Intelligent Slicing Platform." The company said the offering features the services that operators will need to make network slicing a reality, whether it's needs-based tailoring or lifecycle management of network slices. And though it's still early days in this area, and network slicing remains on the horizon, operators are nonetheless hungry for the types of revenue this kind of offering can provide.

Kaloom
It's no secret that network slicing in 5G has drawn interest from a wide variety of vendors looking to cash in on operators' revenue hopes. But Kaloom isn't just focusing on that one opportunity. Instead, the company argues that its User Plane Function (UPF) is able to address not just one major trend in the industry – network slicing – but two: edge computing and network slicing. The company said its UPF can ensure proper network slicing and management on edge computing architecture via its datacenter Cloud Edge Fabric offering. The ultimate result, the company said, is a reduction in customers' total cost of ownership by a factor of ten. That undoubtedly could generate interest among companies fretting over the cost of high-end network slicing management software coupled with edge computing datacenters.

Mavenir
Upstart vendor Mavenir boasts that its 5G core product can support important functions ranging from AMF, SMF, UPF, NSSF, AUSF to NRF. Did you get all that? If not, that's OK, because Mavenir is quickly becoming a top supplier among bleeding-edge providers including Rakuten in Japan and Dish Network in the US. Thus, even if the company's customers might really be interested in obtaining "rapid value with a flexible core evolutionary path offering minimal risk," as Mavenir suggests, they can also take comfort in the fact that many of Mavenir's offerings have been vetted and approved by some of the most forward-thinking operators in the world. And that all doesn't even take into account Mavenir's full-throated support for open RAN, and the company's extensive tests with major, incumbent suppliers as well.

Wind River
One of the biggest developments in the telecom space – a development tied to the shift to 5G – is the opportunity for network operators to run their network functions in a cloud environment. Rather than plugging legacy boxes of hardware into telco networking ports, operators now have the opportunity to join their webscale brethren in running software in datacenters. And that's where Wind River hopes to jump in with its Cloud Platform, which the company said is designed to help 5G operators run a virtualized radio access network across thousands of sites using a single pane of glass. Other functions touted by Wind River include zero-touch automation and zero-touch edge clouds from bare metal up to active status. And though that kind of jargon may be more familiar to webscale datacenter operators rather than old-school telecom engineers, it's certainly the direction Wind River and the rest of the industry is headed.

ZTE
Amid 5G operators' move toward next-gen network technology, one area has consistently tripped them up: software cohesion. The problem, according to a variety of high-level networking engineers, is that software elements from one vendor often cannot properly interact with software elements from another vendor. And that situation certainly won't sit well with network operators keen to derive savings from a move into the cloud and away from expensive, dedicated hardware. Into this situation steps ZTE, which boasts that its 5G Automation Integration Center can handle the complexities around testing, integration and deployment of 5G network operations including NFVI, MANO and VNF. Such offerings are becoming increasingly valuable to operators leveraging 5G in the move from hardware to software.

— Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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