Mavenir makes name for itself driving open RAN efforts

For a company that was barely known a few years ago, Mavenir has emerged as one of the more disruptive vendors in the wireless space, namely in taking on big players in the RAN market while continuing to play in a number of areas.

It’s not a newbie by any means. The company's history goes back to 2005, and it boasts a number of firsts in the areas of VoLTE, RCR, Voice over Wi-Fi and cloud RAN. But in the past year or so, it has been making moves that are turning some heads. (Mavenir is among the 2018 FierceTelecom Edition Innovation Award winners.)

In February 2017, the company relaunched as a 100% carrier-focused solutions provider with a path to 5G and a software-based portfolio that hits every layer of the mobile network infrastructure stack. Headquartered in Richardson, Texas, it’s led by Pardeep Kohli and employs about 2,300—far fewer than the much larger competitors Ericsson and Nokia that it’s attempting to take on in the RAN arena.

In October, Mavenir was named along with two others—Altiostar and Parallel Wireless—as one of the vendors in pilot OpenRAN deployments with Telefónica and Vodafone. That same month, Mavenir announced it was leading an Open RAN partner ecosystem designed to give operators more options and to make it easier to deploy a cloud-based Open RAN solution. The partners there include MTI, Tecore Networks, Baicells, NEC, AceAxis, KMW, Benetel, CommScope, Blue Danube Systems and Airrays.

It’s about breaking up the old ecosystem that has been trapping operators in the lock-in incumbent infrastructure vendors created, according to John Baker, SVP of business development at Mavenir. “It’s all about bringing new vendors into the ecosystem,” he told FierceWirelessTech.

Also in October, Mavenir announced a big win with Telefónica Deutschland, which is deploying Mavenir’s virtualized IMS solution for VoLTE and VoWiFi in its nationwide UNICA Data Centers Infrastructure. The solution will support mobile and fixed services for more than 45 million customer connections.

During the FierceWireless Next Gen Wireless Networks conference in Dallas in October, Baker stressed that operators’ move to virtualization is not a revolution but an evolution, and currently there are the “haves” and the “have nots.” Not everyone is ready to embrace virtualization, even though it is seen as critical in the move to 5G.

“That’s our theory, you have to have virtualization if you have 5G,” he said. Operators are faced with declining ARPUs and can’t continue to pay their current vendors the way they have in the past—something’s got to give, he said. “It’s all about economics,” he said, adding that if operators don’t start now, they’re going to have a hard time catching up. 

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Several initiatives are underway to open the RAN to more vendors like Mavenir. But it’s not clear how quickly the market can turn in Mavenir’s favor.  

“This is a really new and complicated area and I think it’s going to take several more years before you start seeing it taking off or before it becomes more commercialized,” said Ovum analyst Daryl Schoolar, a Fierce contributor. “I don’t believe operators are going to have a fully virtualized network or even a fully open network. I think these are going to be options that operators are going to look at for more specific functions.”

As operators open things up and start adding or mixing vendors, that adds another layer of complexity to the network, and they could risk losing some network efficiencies. On the other hand, if there’s a specific vendor that’s really good at something, the operator may want to plug them in where needed.

So far, however, wireless operators are still awarding markets to vendors on a market-by-market basis as they traditionally have done. With 5G, Samsung has managed to get in the door, garnering some share away from the big two Ericsson and Nokia. Whether some of that business can go to a fourth vendor like Mavenir or how soon that happens is not clear.

But if it succeeds in the cellular RAN market, Mavenir would represent the first U.S. player in this space since Lucent, notes Chris DePuy, an analyst at 650 Group. Of course, Mavenir would be doing so using a different strategy—the open RAN standards approach rather than a strictly proprietary way.

At a meeting in Dallas in October, the company told analysts it expects to grow its revenues about 10% year over year in 2018 with a broad portfolio of telecom-focused products, including voice core, messaging core, mobile packet core and radio access networks. The company is working on a strategy to get 10-15 Tier 1 mobile network operators on board, with its first radio revenues expected to come in 2019, according to a 650 Group blog.

“This company has a lot of different parts,” DePuy told FierceWirelessTech. “They’ve got a very broad portfolio,” including in messaging, security and packet core, to name a few. “It’s very ambitious and it’s very interesting,” selling to some of the largest companies out there.

Interestingly, often smaller vendors will prepare themselves to be acquired by one of the larger ones, but in Mavenir’s case, it’s not specializing in one thing—it’s in many of the same areas as the bigger vendors, leaving open the question of what exactly a big vendor would be acquiring it for.