October 3, 2019
Mavenir has gone Scandi in its efforts to plug an important hole in its virtualization portfolio, today opening a new research facility in Stockholm that will specialize in radio access networks (RAN).
It's the US software company's first "center of innovation" dedicated to RAN technology, and Mavenir figured there was no better place for RAN expertise than the Swedish capital, where Ericsson engineers are a regular feature of the landscape.
Mikael Rylander, the man in charge of the new facility, used to be one himself, having spent nearly 12 years at the Swedish equipment giant before switching to Mavenir in October last year.
But, as he tells Light Reading, it's not just about luring staff from Ericsson. China's ZTE closed a Swedish facility last year, he says, and Mavenir was able to grab some of its engineers when that happened. Huawei, Ericsson's main rival, also has a research presence in Stockholm, as does Swedish telco Telia. And there is the highly regarded Royal Institute of Technology, too. "Stockholm is a good recruiting ground," says Rylander.
The innovation center will have about 50 employees when it's fully staffed and feature a lab where technical experts can perform their magic, linking to an internal core network stack and messaging platform. Wasting no time, Mavenir has already demonstrated 5G new radio technology in conjunction with new interfaces developed by the O-RAN Alliance, an operator-led association working on open alternatives to the more proprietary interfaces used in today's networks.
Mavenir has previously touted these open interfaces as a big threat to the established order and an opportunity for smaller companies to break into the RAN market. And while Ericsson joined the O-RAN Alliance earlier this year, Rylander says they have not been the most active participant.
"They are not at the front. They are cherry-picking a bit. But they are not on the barricades," he says.
Even so, with Mavenir's new research presence in Stockholm there could be opportunities to partner with Ericsson in future, says Rylander. "We can do things they can't, and they have things which are tougher for us," he says. "Cooperation is needed in this ecosystem. I can see all the big vendors will start to join the ecosystem."
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Huawei will have to change its tune, though. While Ericsson and Nokia are now O-RAN Alliance members, the Chinese behemoth has so far declined to get involved, insisting that off-the-shelf hardware is no match for its dedicated kit.
The real reason -- according to John Baker, Mavenir's senior vice president of business development -- is fear of competition. "If Huawei goes open RAN in China, it will have tens of new radio manufacturers in China actually cannibalizing its market," he told Light Reading earlier this year.
Regardless of what Huawei does, Rylander says equipment designed to O-RAN Alliance specifications needs to mature before the technology can be deployed in commercial networks at scale. "We need servers targeting this segment and radios with open interfaces, and both servers and radios need to be designed for high-volume production," he says. "That is what we are working on in the ecosystem."
In the meantime, Ericsson may need to keep an eye on radio experts with itchy feet -- now Mavenir is on the prowl in its own neighborhood.
— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading
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