Mavenir’s In-House Radio Units Show Open RAN Ecosystem’s Growing Pains

Ed Gubbins, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • Despite its software-centric vision and hardware partner ecosystem, Mavenir offers its own radio hardware.
  • This can be seen largely as reflective of a young, still-growing ecosystem and Mavenir’s mission to prove out the vRAN/Open RAN model.

Mavenir may have surprised some attendees at its annual analyst event last month when it touted an array of new hardware-based mobile access products: three new macrocell radio units (RUs) and an enterprise small-cell solution with its own distributed radio units. That’s because Mavenir has long been focused on virtual RAN (vRAN) and Open RAN – running RAN software on general-purpose servers and using RUs from an array of other vendors. It is committed to a vision of being a software, not hardware, provider. And at the same event, Mavenir noted it currently has 11 partners supplying Open RAN radio hardware.

So why does a company intent on providing software, with a long list of radio hardware partners, offer its own radio hardware?

Mavenir says its software strategy hasn’t changed but that, for now, it sees three reasons to selectively develop in-house radios:

  • To address needs that the existing Open RAN ecosystem isn’t meeting;
  • To gain clear competitive differentiation;
  • To accelerate the radio hardware ecosystem.

Specifically, Mavenir is offering two outdoor 5G macro RUs this year – one of which is a millimeter-wave product and one of which is a more standard 4x40W product. Next year, the company plans to add a 5G Massive MIMO RU as well.

At this relatively early stage in the development of the Open RAN RU ecosystem, there aren’t yet a wide array of mmWave and Massive MIMO products to choose from; those are specialty technology areas that pose challenging hurdles for new entrants to the Open RAN ecosystem. As for the more typical RU in Mavenir’s portfolio, there’s justification in what Mavenir concedes is another driver behind the company’s moves.

Mavenir is working hard to prove the value of the vRAN and Open RAN concepts. It also wants to be known as something of an “end-to-end” supplier of a comprehensive set of offerings – everything from RAN and core to VoLTE, IMS, RCS, Internet of Things, and more. So in some deployments, Mavenir has responsibility for end-to-end network performance, which gives it extra incentive to tailor its own RUs, rather than a partner’s, to ensure performance requirements are met. In addition, because Mavenir is also essentially trying to sell the vRAN/Open RAN concept to an entire industry, the company also knows that this concept will be judged in large part on the performance of early rollouts, giving Mavenir even more reason to take its fate into its own hands rather than rely too much on partners.

It’s fair to question the extent to which Mavenir’s use of in-house RUs reflects limitations in the current state of the Open RAN ecosystem. If the approximately 20 vendors currently selling Open RAN RUs can’t cover all of the market needs, is something going wrong? Likewise, if a concern for network performance leads Mavenir toward in-house products rather than the multi-vendor networks that undergird the Open RAN concept, does that mean operators should be concerned about the performance capabilities of Open RANs? In addition, could Mavenir’s in-house RUs create tension among its RU partners, and other RU vendors, if those vendors see Mavenir as competing with them in some situations?

Ultimately, Mavenir’s moves on this subject are symptoms of the Open RAN space in 2020, a space that is rapidly changing and likely to present a different set of dynamics, and questions, just a year or two from now.


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