Chicago company wants wireless operators to take an IT-centric approach to wireless and virtualize the core. Here's what's holding them back

Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms

July 25, 2012

4 Min Read
Lemko Pitches Backhaul-Free LTE

Lemko Corp. , a small company based outside of Chicago, came on the scene in 2002 with the simple plan of being the most all-American, least expensive mobile company.

Of course, that upset just about everyone. In 10 years, CEO Nicholas Labun says he's been kicked out of his fair share of meetings for pitching an approach that runs counter to how most operators run their networks with the help of the big (non-U.S. based, Labun points out) equipment vendors like Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Nokia Networks , Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

Here's Lemko's pitch, summed up by its acronym DiMoWiNe, or Distributed Mobile Wireless Network: virtualize the network's Evolved Packet Core (EPC) and IMS functionality and push it to the edge. Essentially, remove the backhaul and do all the authentication, switching, routing and rating at the eNodeB, which is connected to the cloud as a Layer 7 app. (See Lemko to Show Off 'Backhaul-less' 4G at CTIA.) By the way, we had a good laugh at the acronym, too.

{videoembed|220740} Jokes aside, Lemko is quite serious about DiMoWiNe's potential. "DiMoWiNe turns cellular into an app that jumps on the Internet right away," says Lemko COO Bohdan Pyskir.

The company has more than 500 commercial and military deployments, including some primarily rural wireless operators in areas like fishing towns in Alaska where there were previously no options for coverage -- and, Psikyer said, no motivation to provide coverage. (See Lemko deploys LTE network in Alaska, meets FCC deadline.)

But, now, the company is putting the hard press on the Tier 1 space. Labun says it has five-month trial underway with a Tier 1 Long Term Evolution (LTE) operator in Canada.

Light Reading Mobile paid a visit to Lemko's Schaumburg, Ill., headquarters for a deeper dive into DiMoWiNe. Click on the image below to launch a short slideshow of the trip.

Network savior or missed opportunity?
While the acronym is new, the concept of pushing intelligence to the edge is not. The big equipment vendors have talked about it too, but so far major operators haven't implemented it. Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown points out that some WiMax firms had the same idea, as did some specialist cellular players equipping cruise ships with coverage, for example. He expects the market will remain in specialized networks and applications for the foreseeable future.

But Lemko believes the technology can be valuable for the big guys in that it not only reduces operating expenses fivefold -- from $5 per gigabyte to $1 per gigabyte -- but also reduces wireless operators' need for more spectrum and their reliance on Wi-Fi offload.

"Wi-Fi is not natural to a carrier," Labun says. "There's no reason not to have a smarter base station on every corner."

Technology Business Research Inc. (TBR) analyst Ken Hyers believes the concept has merit. Backhaul is a big expense for operators, and one that's only growing as LTE networks consume more data. The fact that Lemko's architecture reduces spectrum use by processing data traffic at each node rather than through the central node and back to the central core would bring cost savings.

The issue, however, is that most wireless operators have already made major upgrades to their core to implement LTE. Convincing them to make another near-term investment in moving those functions to the edge will be a big hurdle for a small company like Lemko, the analyst says.

"Expenses are going to be a big factor in a decision like this, and operators right now are being cautious about their investments at the moment," Hyers wrote in an email to LR Mobile.

Even so, Lemko's hope is that the opex savings offset the initial investment. It is in talks with a number of Tier 1 operators, pitching the merits of its solution for LTE out the gate. Today the company also announced Wednesday that it has achieved interoperability for roaming between 700MHz LTE lower band class 12 and band class 17.

And, for its part, Lemko has its concerns about working with the big guys too. CEO Labun says the last thing he wants is to "go into their labs and die." Large carriers stick to large vendors, he admits, but he also believes rising data costs will force the change.

"It's a simple concept, but it's hard to prove it [at scale] as a small company ... but something has to change," Labun says. "We think it's the architecture."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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