open RAN

BAI, Mavenir club together on 5G open RAN neutral host network

Infrastructure provider BAI Communications (BAI) has partnered with Mavenir to roll out a 5G neutral host network, based on open RAN tech, to support a smart city project launched by Sunderland city council in the north of England.

Last October the council awarded BAI a 20-year strategic deal to design, build and operate next-gen digital infrastructure, including a private 5G small cell network. Sunderland makes no bones about its ambition to become a "UK smart city leader."

To get the 5G ball rolling on the smart city project, BAI said it will deploy "MAVedge," Mavenir's open vRAN and 5G packet core gear. Designed with cloud-native virtualization techniques, Mavenir claims its 5G open VRAN and packet core solutions are "fully scalable."

Although initial deployment is a city-center 5G private network, BAI and Mavenir were at pains to highlight the potential of evolving that into a neutral host network. "The objective is to automate operations and flex the scalability in neutral hosting architecture whilst delivering benefits not only to enterprises and business users, but also for the wider community," said Stefano Cantarelli, Mavenir's CMO.

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Sunderland city council is keen on the neutral host model. As part of the announcement on the BAI and Mavenir tie-up, it voiced expectations that local councils and authorities will be able to provide smart services and run numerous smart community applications "in a more viable and cost-effective manner" if the same network resources can be used.

"The new network will accelerate the emergence of more smart services including community applications, digital upskilling opportunities and efficiency drives for our advanced manufacturing clusters across the city," reckoned Liz St Louis, assistant director of smart cities at Sunderland city council.

Making the most of the host

Using open RAN to support a neutral host model is arguably gaining some industry momentum. Even BT, an open RAN sceptic – at least in comparison with its heavyweight European peers – sees potential here.

"We actually think, irrespective of anything else, that the open RAN architecture fits neutral host really well – the way you build it is very similar to how open RAN has been architected today," says Neil McRae, BT's chief network architect. "The signaling and baseband work similarly to how open RAN is architected, so it's a good fit and that is the reason we are looking at it."

Also in the UK, BAI, after landing a 20-year concession with Transport for London, recently announced a deal with mobile operators Three and EE to bring greater 4G and "5G-ready" connectivity to its customers on London's underground rail network using its "neutral host" cellular network.

— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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