With Samsung, is Dish doubling down on open RAN – or giving up?

'We've held very firmly to the [open RAN] architecture and the importance of having an open ecosystem,' said Dish's Stephen Bye. 'And any partner that we bring into our ecosystem understands that.'

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

May 4, 2022

5 Min Read
With Samsung, is Dish doubling down on open RAN – or giving up?

Dish Network's Stephen Bye has a quick answer to whether Dish's new $1 billion deal with Samsung represents a withdrawal by the operator from open RAN: "Absolutely not," he said. "If anything, we're doubling down."

He continued: "Samsung isn't the only partner. We've got a lot of good partners in this ecosystem, and we're certainly excited as to what they can do for us today. And, and for the whole ecosystem, I think having somebody like Samsung embrace this architecture [open RAN] and deploy it, I think is going to be good for other operators as well."

Bye, Dish's chief commercial officer, added that the company's selection of Samsung as a 5G radio vendor will help Dish scale up its network buildout throughout 2022. The company is facing a US government mandate to cover 20% of the US population with 5G by June 14, 2022, and 70% by June 14, 2023.

Difficulties and delays

The question of Dish's interest in open RAN is certainly relevant considering the company is roughly six months behind its initial 5G buildout targets. Company officials have largely blamed the situation on difficulties involved in deploying open RAN technology. "We found that we had to become the system integrator," explained Dish chief Charlie Ergen in February. "It wasn't a role that we thought we're going to take on."

Figure 1: The Dish Wireless headquarters building in Littleton, Colorado. (Source: Dish) The Dish Wireless headquarters building in Littleton, Colorado.
(Source: Dish)

Prior to the company's announcement this week with Samsung, Dish had only been working with two relatively small 5G radio vendors: Taiwan's Microelectronics Technology Inc. (MTI) and Japan's Fujitsu. The addition of Samsung to Dish's radio vendor lineup puts Dish alongside Verizon and AT&T, which also use Samsung as a 5G equipment vendor.

Thus, some in the industry had begun speculating that Dish's deal with Samsung represented a tacit admission by the company that it needed to deploy traditional, integrated equipment from a single, big vendor, rather than using open RAN interfaces to mix and match equipment from a variety of vendors.

"We've held very firmly to the [open RAN] architecture and the importance of having an open ecosystem," Bye explained. "That is absolutely critical for us. And any partner that we bring into our ecosystem understands that, and has adapted in a way that allows us to deploy that vendor in our environment. And Samsung is no exception."

The details

However, Bye declined to dive into the details of Dish's plans to deploy Samsung's equipment. "I just don't want to call out specific vendors working with specific vendors," he said. "The interfaces are open. And as long as everybody complies with those interfaces, they will fully interoperate. ... So between the Samsung CU [central unit], DU [distributed unit], and any other radio vendor, as long as all sides comply, then it will work. And obviously there's a lot of testing we have to do to make sure that happens. But I don't want to answer specifically as it relates to which vendors work with whom."

Dish has selected Mavenir and Rakuten's Altiostar to manage its radios. In its announcement this week with Samsung, Dish said it will use the vendor's "5G and RAN solutions, vRAN software and a variety of O-RAN compliant radio units, including Massive MIMO radios."

Bye did confirm though that Samsung's software will run inside the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud and the VMware and Dell platform that Dish is using.

Importantly, Bye said that Dish's selection of Samsung also stems from the company's purchase of billions of dollars worth of new spectrum licenses across the FCC's 3.5GHz CBRS, C-band and Andromeda (3.45GHz) spectrum auctions.

"The TDD [Time Division Duplex] is an important component in the timing [of the Samsung announcement] as well, because we wanted to get through the auction and understand what our spectrum position would be," he said. "And then as we're deploying TDD, we're looking at Massive MIMO and solutions that do carrier aggregation between FDD [Frequency Division Duplex] and TDD. So we were evaluating the technology options we had for that deployment as we go forward as well. So that probably had more to do with the timing [of the Samsung announcement] than anything else. It was just in terms of how we think about the deployment and as we think about our role in it – less so that we had any problems with our [open RAN] integration. That was really not a factor in this [Samsung] decision at all."

Samsung's open RAN credentials

The financial analysts at Raymond James this week reported on their recent meeting with Samsung's Alok Shah, VP of marketing and business development, and his comments about open RAN.

"Mr. Shah described open RAN (O-RAN) as a set of specifications intended to standardize interfaces within the Radio Access Network that have previously not been open. Samsung asserts it has been far more supportive of the efforts than its legacy peers," the analysts wrote. "As a challenger in the industry, Samsung is pro-O-RAN and can act as an 'honest broker.'"

They continued: "Samsung cautions smaller operators to be pragmatic about the operational challenges of O-RAN, while the large operators are book-ending single-vendor, O-RAN-compliant fronthaul equipment as a first step. ... An exception are operators like Rakuten and Dish, who have strong technical capability but are building greenfield networks; implementing O-RAN in these networks will be easier and present an opportunity to disrupt the market."

Samsung has enjoyed significant gains in the 5G equipment market in general in recent years, having recently displaced Nokia as a major 5G equipment supplier at Verizon. Verizon, for its part, is in the midst of a massive buildout of its new midband C-band spectrum licenses.

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

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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