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.)
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.)
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