Dish looking ahead with Qualcomm collaboration

After announcing a collaboration with Qualcomm to test solutions containing its new open 5G radio access network (RAN) platforms, Dish Network is looking ahead at future equipment deployments for its planned 5G network, according to the service provider’s network chief Marc Rouanne.

The partnership “brings us additional options for the future,” Rouanne, Dish EVP and chief network officer, told FierceWireless via email.

Because of the open network design Dish has agreements with multiple vendors, he noted, citing Intel and its FlexRAN technology. Japan’s Fujitsu is initially supplying radio units. 

“Intel represents the first generation (that we will use to meet our deadlines),” in terms of infrastructure chipsets, Rouanne said.

Under commitments to the FCC, Dish has to complete enough of its 5G network build to cover 20% of the U.S. population by June 14, 2022, and 50% by mid-2023 if it wants to be able to extend deadlines for broader coverage targets farther out.

But Dish already is looking ahead at the second and third generations of network gear.

RELATED: Dish won’t have major 5G market up and running until Q3 of 2021

This aligns more with Qualcomm’s timeline as the company deepens its presence in the infrastructure space. The chip giant said delivery of engineering samples of its new 5G RAN chipset platforms isn’t anticipated until the first half of 2022 for select vendors.

“If we decide to use Qualcomm after testing, when the launch is ready, we will be looking at both Intel and Qualcomm, among other vendors,” Rouanne said. “Because we have an open network, there is always the opportunity to work with a combination of vendors.”

Last month CCS Insights’ Geoff Blaber told Fierce that while the expected timing for Qualcomm’s platform is later than the market would ideally like, they will launch in a more mature open RAN market as it’s still the early days of RAN transformation. 

Rouanne declined to share details on timing for when testing might begin or how long it will take ahead of deployment. Existing Dish vendors, along with those the company hasn’t signed yet, will be involved in testing Qualcomm’s technology.

RELATED: Qualcomm bolsters 5G infrastructure play with vRAN platform

He did confirm that Nokia is expected to be one of the infrastructure suppliers, among others, testing with Dish and Qualcomm.

That may not come as a huge surprise since Dish already named Nokia as the supplier for its standalone (SA) 5G core. And the interoperability associated with open RAN networks means Dish can have a multi-vendor environment. 

While open RAN offers opportunities for newer and emerging entrants – something Dish has made clear it views as a benefit – Nokia is one of the major traditional vendors that has more actively promoted open RAN.

Over the summer it committed to a full suite of open RAN-defined interfaces that work with its existing RAN portfolio. Nokia also helped with Rakuten’s launch of the first at-scale fully virtualized open mobile network in Japan, working with another Dish vendor U.S-based Altiostar, among other contributions.

In terms of the Qualcomm pact impacting Dish’s confidence in working with emerging vendors, Rouanne said the collaboration “reinforces the strength of the O-RAN ecosystem,” adding that Dish is very happy Qualcomm is complying with the provider’s O-RAN implementation.  

RELATED: Nokia integrates Qualcomm 5G RAN platform for indoor small cells

Unveiled last month, Qualcomm’s 5G RAN platforms will support virtualized and open network architectures and are designed for a variety of infrastructure deployments including macro, micro and small cell installations.

“We are constantly evaluating a variety of vendors, with a concerted focus on those based in the U.S.,” Rouanne said. “The beauty of an Open RAN network is that we can focus on the best partner for each specific network need, whether they are a traditional wireless industry player, come from the IT space, or are an emerging vendor.”

Although not a named Dish supplier, Airspan is another U.S.-based player in the open RAN space that comes to mind for infrastructure. Qualcomm’s venture capital arm has invested in both Airspan and Altiostar. Airspan worked closely with Altiostar (which is also backed by Cisco, Rakuten, and others) on Rakuten’s virtualized RAN build out, and the vendor used Qualcomm 4G and 5G infrastructure platforms for its 4G small cells and 5G mmWave radio units deployed by the operator in Japan.

RELATED: Qualcomm Ventures invests in four tech startups to build 5G ecosystem

It was clear during Dish’s third-quarter conference call on Friday that analysts remain skeptical as to whether Dish can fulfill on its network buildout promise and within its estimated $10 billion price tag that some have pegged as far too low.

As for Qualcomm’s role with Dish, the chipmaker said it was excited to help accelerate Dish’s strategy.

“In addition, we are working with many other global operators and infrastructure vendors, so the next few years will be busy as we support the transition toward a new network architecture,” a spokesperson said via email. “This is a great opportunity to develop and scale key network technologies that will play an important role in the transition toward virtualized and interoperable networks driven by 5G.”

Beyond Qualcomm’s RAN platforms, its device chipsets will also help Dish efforts. 

“For example, Qualcomm will bring voice over 5G in its devices, which goes beyond the pure RAN solution,” Rouanne noted.

In a statement Qualcomm’s Durga Malladi, SVP and general manager of 4/5G, said the company is committed to supporting Dish vendors and device makers “with standalone 5G and Vo5G across all Dish spectrum bands.”