Mavenir stokes open RAN, creates radio reference designs

Today Mavenir announced that it is establishing a new business unit that will develop hardware and software designs for open RAN radios. Its goal is to create an ecosystem of radio vendors that will build open RAN radios for the specific needs of operators around the world.

Speaking with Fierce, Mavenir’s CEO Pardeep Kohli said open RAN won’t be successful unless there are radios that suit the needs of many operators who all have different spectrum and different requirements. “We want to reduce the complexity of building a radio,” said Kohli. 

Mikael Rylander will lead this new Remote Radio Unit (RRU) business group as general manager and senior vice president. Rylander has been with Mavenir for about two years. Previously, he served as the global head of Ericsson’s radio portfolio.

In addition, Puneet Sethi will be joining the company as general manager and senior vice president of Mavenir’s RAN business unit. Sethi joins Mavenir from Qualcomm where he helped establish its small cells and RAN infrastructure business. At Mavenir he’ll focus on creating and delivering central unit (CU) and distributed unit (DU) software. Mavenir’s CU and DU solutions are already deployed with multiple third-party radios that are compliant with O-RAN specs from the O-RAN Alliance.

Within the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), Mavenir has recently worked with the Taiwanese radio vendor MTI to create the first Evenstar B3 remote radio head (RRH).

RELATED: Mavenir and MTI deliver first Evenstar open RAN radio

But that radio is only suitable for Band-3 (1800 MHz) spectrum. And the Evenstar portfolio is currently limited to that single radio.

Mavenir’s goal is to enable an open RAN ecosystem of radios that fit the spectrum needs of operators around the world.

“There are many bands,” said Kohli. “In the U.S., there are eight to nine different combinations you need. Ericsson and Nokia build over 100 radios in different combinations. For us to address a global market, we would need over 100 radios. We cannot do it ourselves. Our goal is to give reference designs to people and other companies so they can build radios that will create an ecosystem.” 

Mavenir has already been working on this project, collaborating with about 11 open RAN hardware manufacturers to make radios that are compatible with its software. Globally, there are about another nine vendors that make open RAN radio units. 

But Kohli said most of those other nine vendors are Chinese. He said Chinese vendors have been quite aggressive in the open RAN radio ecosystem. But because of trade tensions with China, those radios are unacceptable to operators in many parts of the world.

Mavenir wants to encourage vendors, new and old, to build open RAN radios. “We are not manufacturing the radios, but we are designing and will make that design open source to reduce the investment for other people to build,” he said. “We are jumpstarting the market. Our software is of no use if there is no hardware to drive it. It’s a complex problem that can’t be solved by one company.”

Massive MIMO

In addition to stoking the open RAN radio ecosystem, Mavenir plans to build a 5G Massive MIMO radio unit and make that available in the third quarter of 2021.

Kohli said, “If you look at the new auctions, they’re all in the higher bands. They all need massive MIMO radios.”

Some companies such as NEC and Fujitsu have already developed open RAN massive MIMO radios. But Kohli said those radios won’t meet all the requirements of other global operators. “There are many variations depending on the country and local restrictions,” he said. “But for new things that NEC is not addressing, we will address that. They’re very interested in using our radios, as well. It’s not a competition at all. It’s more about filling out the ecosystem.”

RELATED: Rakuten is building a 3.7 GHz massive MIMO 5G radio with NEC

Mavenir will open source the reference design for its Massive MIMO radio after it’s completed. “This is our own internal IP,” said Kohli. “To make something open source, you have to own it. We are first building it ourselves and then will make it available. We’ll also build the radio software and make that open source as well.”

Mavenir’s progress

Mavenir is on a growth spurt with its headcount doubling in the last two years. It currently employs more than 4,300 people around the world with about 600 people in the United States, and other groups working in Europe and India. About 2,000 of its employees are working on the radio aspect of its business.

Its biggest customer is T-Mobile for which it provides IMS mobile core services including voice, video and messaging. Mavenir hopes that T-Mobile will embrace open RAN at some point in the future.

Asked which operators, in his opinion, are leading on open RAN, Kohli named Telefonica and Vodafone. He also called out Orange and he named Deutsche Telekom, which recently said it was going to build an “O-RAN town” in Neubrandenburg, Germany in 2021.

He didn’t name any of the big three U.S. carriers as leading in open RAN, even though they belong to organizations such as the O-RAN Alliance. “So far, all three haven’t done any meaningful deployments,” said Kohli. “Dish is the leader in the U.S. I believe the big three will get there in the next 18 months.”

RELATED: Dish names Mavenir as first vendor for 5G network build

But he said that currently, they’re more focused on getting their existing vendors to work with each other, than they are in really blazing new ground with open RAN.

For his part, Kohli recently was voted the Most Powerful Person in Wireless by FieceWireless readers.