Altiostar: Open RAN, virtualization ‘not pie in the sky’

Citing what he calls “incomplete information” circulating among industry and U.S. policy makers, Altiostar’s Thierry Maupilé said he wants to clarify a few things about the movement to open RAN and virtualized networks: It’s not for tomorrow and the future, but for the here and now.

“This is not pie in the sky,” he said. “This is real innovation which is deployed, working and performing extremely well.”

While Maupilé said he’s heard this “incomplete information” in various venues, Nokia’s CTO for North America, Mike Murphy, told lawmakers a couple weeks ago that there is limited maturity in both ORAN as specified by the ORAN Alliance and RAN virtualization. He was urging them not to put open RAN burdens on rural carriers, which are the least capable of being early adopters.

Mavenir, another competitor in the open RAN space, also took exception to that, sending the following statement to Fierce: “Nokia’s assertion that OpenRAN technology is not market ready is a head scratcher, given that there are numerous OpenRAN deployments already active across the globe,” said Mavenir Senior Vice President John Baker, citing his company’s services in the United Kingdom, Germany and India and stated interest from industry players Rakuten and Dish Network. “The reality is that this technology is tested, secure and available to providers now — and Congress and regulators should encourage providers to study and deploy it as they look to replace legacy suppliers.”

Altiostar and Mavenir are among a handful of U.S. companies whose profiles are rising in the U.S. and elsewhere as operators and others seek alternatives not only to China’s Huawei but the entrenched way networks are built—of which Nokia has been part.

Both Mavenir and Altiostar were among those invited to a 5G Summit at the White House set for April 1; Altiostar received word on Monday that the summit has been postponed. Both companies also were due to attend the 5G vRAN forum at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), originally scheduled for March 26, but that was postponed last week.

'Making progress'

Before everything shut down due to the coronavirus, Altiostar representatives were having direct communications with key U.S. government officials. “We continue to make progress,” Maupilé told Fierce earlier this week while grounded in the Bay Area.

When it comes to the transition from 4G to 5G, “it’s also very clear the U.S. is not behind,” he said. The U.S. is leading the way in software with virtualization, containerization, the cloud and automation. “This is in fact leveraging what the U.S. is very good at,” which is silicon and software, providing a new approach for 5G that is way beyond what even Huawei can offer today, he said.

On Wednesday, Telefónica, an investor in Altiostar, announced a strategic collaboration that includes Altiostar, as well as Gigatera Communications, Intel, Supermicro and Xilinx, to foster the development of open RAN technologies in 4G and 5G, launching trials in the U.K., Germany, Spain and Brazil this year.

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Maupilé, who used to work at Motorola, ticked off a number of vendors that have come and gone over the years, including Nortel and Alcatel-Lucent, leaving only a handful in the infrastructure space. The open RAN and open source movement, however, is creating an opportunity for scores of vendors to enter the fray. More than 40 companies are now participating in the supply chain, he said.

The goal is to transition to an industry structure that leverages U.S. innovation and intellectual property to bring on a new supply chain and more choices for operators. U.S. companies are known for their silicon and software expertise, and they should be recognized as leading the way to 5G.

Based in Tewksbury, Mass., about 30 minutes outside Boston, Altiostar has offices in Japan, Italy, the U.K., Mexico and India. In Japan, it’s working with Rakuten on its fully virtualized network—from the RAN to the core, with end-to-end automation for both network functions and services. In the U.S., Dish Network is eyeing a similar virtualized strategy as it embarks on its mission to serve as a fourth facilities-based carrier after Sprint merges with T-Mobile.

RELATED: Cisco’s early bet on RAN virtualization propels Altiostar

Altiostar’s history dates back to Starent, a startup whose mission was to decouple the mobile packet core from the RAN. Cisco bought Starent in 2009 for $2.9 billion, and in 2011 Cisco helped fund some of the members of the Starent team to create Altiostar. Since then, the company has deployed systems with GCI in Alaska, as well as Telecom Italia and Telcel in Mexico.