Altiostar's C-RAN Steps Into the Light, Junks Dark Fiber

Cisco-backed startup Altiostar has unveiled a virtualized Cloud-RAN system that it claims will be more scalable and much cheaper to deploy than alternative systems because it uses Ethernet rather than dark fiber for "fronthaul" connectivity. (See What the [Bleep] Is Fronthaul?)

As Light Reading reported in March, Altiostar Networks Inc. has been developing a new spin on Cloud-RAN (C-RAN) networking. C-RAN, also known as Centralized RAN, is a new network architecture that uses centralized baseband controllers to synchronize and manage clusters of remote radio heads (RRHs), with the baseband controllers and RRHs connected via fronthaul links. (See Cisco Invests in 4G LTE Startup Altiostar.)

The benefit of such an architecture, compared with current radio access networks that combine the controller and radio in a single unit, is that it provides operators with greater scalability, flexibility and the potential to deploy radios closer to users. This should result in faster downloads and fewer dropped calls for users, particularly in dense urban settings. (See Clouding the Edge for LTE-A and Beyond.)

But one of the expensive pain points for C-RAN systems is that the controllers and RRHs communicate using the Common Public Radio Interface (CPRI) over dark fiber fronthaul links. (See Small Cell Fronthaul: Wireless Backhaul's Future.)

"Dark fiber is not readily available, even in the US," says Altiostar CEO Ashraf Dahod.

Altiostar has instead designed a C-RAN system that can use common Ethernet for the fronthaul transport links. In fact, says Dahod, the system can run over standard Ethernet cable, microwave Ethernet links, and millimeter wave wireless connections, as well as fiber. (See Altiostar Launches 4G C-RAN Solution and Small Cell Fronthaul: Wireless Backhaul's Future.)

Dahod says that Altiostar is currently in various stages of testing with four operators in the Americas, Asia and Europe. "We are going to field trials with one of the operators," says Dahod.

As Light Reading has previously reported, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has a strong interest in Altiostar. Cisco has invested in the Tewksbury, Mass.-based startup and Kelly Ahuja, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's mobility business group, sits on the board of the C-RAN vendor. Cisco also plans to OEM the Altiostar system. (See Altiostar: Cisco's Backdoor RAN?)

Dahod says that Cisco has put $50 million into the company, which when added to investments from the management team and Excelestar Ventures puts Altiostar's total funding to date at about $70 million.

The company currently employs 200 people. Dahod says 150 of these are in India. The company also has operations in the UK and beyond. (See Altiostar Networks: Hola, LTE!)

The CEO clearly has the pedigree to build a new network startup. He was CEO of Starent Networks, which was sold to Cisco for $2.9 billion. (See Cisco to Buy Starent for $2.9B.)

Want to know more about how operators and vendors are working to make networks more efficient? Check out our dedicated ROI/TCO content channel for articles related to return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) issues.

C-RAN is one of the NFV use cases (Use Case #6: Virtualisation of Mobile base station) set out by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) NFV Industry Specifications Group (ISG). A C-RAN proof of concept was shown by China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Wind River Systems Inc. at the recent SDN & OpenFlow World Congress in Dusseldorf.

China Mobile has been pushing hard for C-RAN development from the vendor community and has worked with Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) on potential commercial solutions. (See China Mobile Deploys Ericsson's Fiber Fronthaul Solution, China Mobile, Alcatel-Lucent to Demo NFV at MWC14 and China Mobile Steps Up Cloud RAN Efforts.)

In South Korea, where access network fiber is more readily available than in other markets, KT Corp. and SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) have been trying out early C-RAN architectures.

Altiostar's news will be music to the ears of wireless fronthaul/backhaul vendors. Ceragon Networks Ltd. (Nasdaq: CRNT), for example, showed off a microwave fronthaul solution designed for C-RAN deployments at this year's Mobile World Congress.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

stawdema 11/24/2014 | 9:01:10 PM
Re: Changes TCO plans for C-RAN? It's different from the Cisco spin in model. This one had money out in by others before Cisco invested.
Steve Saunders 11/24/2014 | 11:54:12 AM
Re: Changes TCO plans for C-RAN? that's typically how a spin in works, yeah 
DanJones 11/24/2014 | 10:06:59 AM
Re: Changes TCO plans for C-RAN? If that's the case we could see them edging closer and closer to actually being a full-blown RAN network provider, albeit with small cells and C-RAN at the forefront rather than a traditional full-blown macro play.
Steve Saunders 11/24/2014 | 9:10:40 AM
Re: Changes TCO plans for C-RAN? more than just coincidence... i suspect there is a buy back clause in there for Cisco 
DanJones 11/24/2014 | 9:05:17 AM
Re: Changes TCO plans for C-RAN? Yep, lots of Cisco people onboard, or people who were with other startups that were bought by Cisco.
Steve Saunders 11/23/2014 | 11:42:42 AM
Re: Changes TCO plans for C-RAN? Looks like a straightforward spin in to me. 4 out of six of the execs are Cisco employees vacationing at this startup, no? 

I know the spin in model is appealing for large incumbents but I'm forgetting why... other than it keeps folk who might otherwise leave connected to the mothership.

Might be worth a dig into this angle. 


[email protected] 11/20/2014 | 9:56:21 AM
Changes TCO plans for C-RAN? THis surely changes the cost of building out C-RAN and opens up the market if you can backhaul over wireless and fixed Ethernet infrastructure, right?
Sign In