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open RAN

Mavenir begins dabbling in open RAN hardware

Mavenir is now making radio units to work alongside its open RAN software offerings.

The development highlights both the widening opportunities in the mobile infrastructure market driven by the open RAN (radio access network) trend, as well as the complexities and difficulties generated by a technology designed to separate hardware from software.

GlobalData analyst Ed Gubbins detailed Mavenir's new hardware plans in a post to the firm's site, noting the company plans to offer two outdoor 5G radio units (RUs) this year, including one that will support transmissions in millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. He said that next year the company plans to add a Massive MIMO RU as well.

Mavenir "wants to be known as something of an 'end-to-end' supplier," Gubbins wrote. "In some deployments, Mavenir has responsibility for end-to-end network performance, which gives it extra incentive to tailor its own RUs, rather than a partner's, to ensure performance requirements are met. In addition, because Mavenir is also essentially trying to sell the virtual RAN/open RAN concept to an entire industry, the company also knows that this concept will be judged in large part on the performance of early rollouts, giving Mavenir even more reason to take its fate into its own hands rather than rely too much on partners."

"We are ... producing various radio products that will break the incumbent's monopoly in the global market," confirmed a Mavenir spokesperson in response to questions from Light Reading. However, the spokesperson declined to answer a number of questions about the company's new effort, including when Mavenir started to build RAN hardware, whether it has sold any of that hardware, which vendors might be supplying the silicon for that hardware, and how much money it has invested in building open RAN hardware.

Gubbins pointed out the irony in Mavenir building its own open RAN hardware to help sell its software – after all, the whole point of the open RAN trend is to separate hardware and software elements in a wireless network. Doing so could allow network operators to mix and match products from a variety of suppliers instead of being forced to purchase everything from just one vendor.

"It's fair to question the extent to which Mavenir's use of in-house RUs reflects limitations in the current state of the open RAN ecosystem," Gubbins wrote. "If the approximately 20 vendors currently selling open RAN RUs can't cover all of the market needs, is something going wrong? Likewise, if a concern for network performance leads Mavenir toward in-house products rather than the multi-vendor networks that undergird the open RAN concept, does that mean operators should be concerned about the performance capabilities of open RANs?"

Gubbins concluded that Mavenir's entry into the hardware space is mostly a reflection of "a space that is rapidly changing."

Gubbins isn't the only analyst who views the sector that way.

"We estimate total open RAN revenues are tracking ahead of schedule," wrote Stefan Pongratz of Dell'Oro Group, noting the firm recently raised its 2020 open RAN revenue forecast to $300,000 from $200,000. "On the other hand, the lion share of any 'security' related RAN swaps are still going to the traditional RAN players, suggesting the technology for basic radio systems remains on track but the smaller players also need to ramp up investments rapidly to get ready for prime time and secure larger brownfield wins."

How the open RAN trend ultimately plays out remains anyone's guess. As Pongratz noted, open RAN is benefiting from a number of headwinds ranging from operators' desire for new vendors to government worries over potential security threats posed by Chinese vendors. Such concerns are pushing some operators to remove equipment from Chinese vendors from their network – but established suppliers like Nokia and Ericsson rather than upstarts like Mavenir, have been central to those swaps. Further, a growing range of voices are raising questions about open RAN stretching from cost savings to intellectual property to reliability.

Mavenir has much riding on its new hardware tacit. Although the company has enjoyed growth in areas such as 5G core, it's pinning much of its future growth as a public company on the premise that open RAN will eventually shift from an interesting niche topic to a full-blown inevitability for 5G.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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