Dish tests 5G O-RAN radios from obscure vendor MTI

Dish Network is working with radios from an obscure vendor for its new, greenfield 5G network.

Dish today said that it conducted a test at its fully-virtualized standalone 5G core network in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where it integrated and validated end-to-end 5G connections using the industry's first O-RAN compliant FDD radio, developed by MTI. 

Dish has also reached an agreement with MTI for O-RAN radio units (RUs) to help support its nationwide network deployment.

MTI who?

MTI is a Taiwan-based manufacturer that has traditionally supplied hardware for more well-known telecom vendors.

Last May in a conversation with FierceWireless, Sachin Katti, who is co-chair of the O-RAN Alliance Technical Steering Committee, mentioned MTI. Katti said efforts through the O-RAN Alliance and the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) are providing new opportunities for contract manufacturers such as MTI, which have historically been invisible because they build radio hardware for bigger vendors such as Ericsson and Nokia. “They have RF IP, and now they’re seeing an opportunity to sell directly to operators rather than to a traditional channel like Ericsson and Nokia,” Katti said in May.

RELATED: Open RAN leader Sachin Katti ‘surprised’ by uptake

And apparently his comments were predictive, based on today’s announcement from Dish.

Marc Rouanne, Dish’s chief network officer, said in a statement today, "MTI has been a trusted Dish partner for nearly 30 years. We have been working very closely on the development of this radio with MTI, and the deployment of the O-RAN architecture will benefit both Dish and our customers."

MTI radio
MTI 5G radio units

For the trial in Wyoming, Dish also worked with its software partner Mavenir and its core network vendor Nokia to integrate the MTI radios with its cloud-native 5G network.

“We are proud to announce that we have demonstrated on-air 5G connections through the industry's first Open RAN-compliant FDD radio," said Rouanne.

As part of the agreement, MTI will supply Dish with low-band tri-band RUs and mid-band dual-band RUs, which cover the key spectrum bands being deployed by Dish.

A Dish spokesperson explained that the first means the radio can transmit and receive up to three different low-band channels, while the second radio can transmit and receive up to two different mid-band channels. "This allows Dish to have a more compact site design as we can integrate the equivalent of either two or three single-band radios into one dual-band or one triple-band radio," she said. "This yields much lower site costs than having 5 single-band radios per site."

"As the U.S. leader in developing an open, cloud-native network, Dish is the ideal partner for us to collaborate with on our RUs, which comply with Dish's O-RAN specifications and have been designed for a multi-supplier environment enabled by open networks," said Allen Yen, CEO of MTI, in a statement.

Open RAN

Dish is a big proponent of open RAN, saying the technology, along with cloud-native and virtualization techniques, is a way to make Dish a more efficient operator without breaking the bank.

RELATED: T-Mobile vs. Dish: 2 takes on open RAN

Some, such as T-Mobile, have claimed open RAN isn’t ready for prime-time, and it will be difficult for operators to move away from traditional vendors who make sure everything is working together correctly.

Dish’s Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Bye recently told Fierce that the argument that open RAN is inefficient because there’s not one single vendor to hold accountable doesn’t hold water. He said when you deploy a network, it’s the job of the operator to do the integration. “You can’t give it to one party and have them do it for you,” said Bye.

O-RAN Alliance

Dish is working with MTI radios that are compliant with specifications from the O-RAN Alliance.

Early this year, the O-RAN Alliance and TIP agreed to work together to avoid duplication and ensure alignment in developing interoperable open RAN solutions.

At TIP’s virtual conference in October, Vodafone’s head of group network architecture Santiago Tenorio announced the results of an RFI for open RAN radio hardware.

RELATED: Vodafone names top radio companies in its open RAN RFI

The RFI covered multi-band remote radio heads, Massive MIMO radios and single band radios.

Tenorio named the frontrunners in the RFI, which included some familiar companies such as Fujitsu, Mavenir and Airspan. But there were also some not-so-familiar names including Baicells, Comba and NTS.