February 2, 2023
Verizon plans to test Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB) technology from startup Verana Networks for its millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G network. The technology could make it easier and cheaper for Verizon to expand the reach of its mmWave signals.
Verizon executives first publicly indicated their interest in IAB in 2019. Using the technology, the company would be able to do away with the need for fiber backhaul at each of its mmWave transmission sites.
Instead, it could potentially install 5G transmitters in locations that only have electricity and not fiber because the antennas could backhaul their traffic via a wireless link to a nearby receiver. That receiver would likely need to be connected to a fiber network.
"You don't have to bring fiber backhaul to every single mmWave small cell, right at the beginning. Because getting fiber to the location can be very expensive," Amit Jain, founder and chief commercial officer of Verana Networks, told Light Reading. Fiber backhaul can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000 per year, per site, depending on the site and the city, he said, adding that IAB "gives a lot of flexibility to the customer in the way that they can deploy it."
IAB also dovetails with Verizon's other efforts to improve its mmWave coverage, including by using mmWave repeaters from companies such as Movandi, Pivotal Commware, FRTek and SureCall.
"There is definitely a lot of interest in our solution," said Jain. However, he declined to discuss the scope of Verizon's tests of his company's technology, including the number of sites involved in the effort.
Jain also confirmed that Verana is working with other operators on the technology, though he declined to specify which companies.
Verizon's interest in Verana's technology isn't a surprise because Verana asked the FCC for permission last year to test transmissions in 27GHz mmWave spectrum owned by Verizon.
The small cell angle
Verizon could be preparing to renew its focus on small cells, which it uses for mmWave transmissions. A top Verizon official said last year that the operator would speed up its small cell buildout starting in 2023.
But a project focusing on small cells would represent a pivot for Verizon, considering that it and other operators shifted focus away from small cells starting in 2021 in order to build out their midband spectrum holdings using big, macro cell towers. Today, Verizon counts more than 30,000 small cells in its network.
Verana Networks is a startup that launched in 2020 to tackle the mmWave sector. The company hopes to use the open RAN trend to break into the market for 5G equipment. Open RAN promises to open up the interfaces between various wireless networking components in a way that would allow smaller vendors to supply hardware and software alongside bigger vendors like Ericsson and Samsung.
So far, Verana has raised $43 million in funding. However, Jain confirmed that the vendor did not sell any commercial products during 2022, as the company had previously hoped. He declined to speculate on when a sale might happen.
"Our main focus is to go out and prove our technology," Jain said.
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