Open and automated radio access network (RAN) has emerged as a promising alternative to legacy architectures in the telecommunication space. Mavenir is building the future of networks and pioneering advanced technology, focusing on the vision of a single, software-based automated network that runs on any cloud. In an interview with tele.net, Puneet Sethi, senior vice president and general manager, RAN Business Unit, Mavenir, shares his views on the open RAN and 5G ecosystem in India, Mavenir’s role in this space, and the key trends and challenges…
What is the state of the open RAN ecosystem in India?
The ecosystem is developing at a very fast pace. A number of partners and players on the radio, services and centralised unit (CU)/distributed unit (DU) fronts showcased their products at India Mobile Congress (IMC) 2022. Moreover, hardware can now be sourced within India. Both, on the software and hardware sides, a lot of development can be seen in the ecosystem.
How close are we to fully-automated open RAN networks?
One of the key things about open RAN is that most of these products, at least in the software space, are dealt as cloud-native software implementation from day one. So, it is open virtualised RAN (vRAN). Mavenir’s CU/DU products are cloud-native that can support and work across any cloud platform, whether public or private cloud. The state of automation is such that we are able to launch multiple hundreds of sites in a single day. Right from when we have access to the hardware, to the airwaves that come up, the whole process is automated. Whether it is a public cloud like AWS CodePipieline or a private cloud, software is automatically deployed, checks are made and the signals start radiating from the radio. This is one of the key differentiators of open RAN as it allows you to automate and enables other information technology (IT) players to come in and offer the benefits of automation.
How is Mavenir helping CSPs to make the most of 5G in India?
Today, 5G represents a lot of investment for communication service providers (CSPs). There have to pay for the spectrum and invest CAPEX for bringing up sites and deploying all the equipments. How these CSPs will make the investment bear fruit is the question. The average revenue per user (ARPU) will not go up as consumers will not pay additional rupees for 5G services. So, operators have to think about monetising 5G in different ways which has not been done with 4G, 3G or 2G. They have to think of ways to deploy new use cases or applications. For example, intelligent video analytics (IVA) use case can be applied to the manufacturing sector and automotive. These are the use cases the telecom industry will have to expand into to create new sources of revenue and make the most of 5G. The only way this happens is when the operators can deploy the solutions faster and leverage cloud-native applications that can be automated, both on the core and on the RAN. That is where Mavenir has a clear differentiation, given its history on the cloud and open RAN fronts, which can help operators get there faster.
What are the key challenges that network operators are facing as they shift into the next phase of their 5G strategies?
One of the key challenges is that 5G launch will be at an unprecedented speed. Reliance Jio committed pan-India 5G availability by the end of 2023, while Bharti Airtel committed the same largely by March 2024. This is very aggressive and has not been done before. A key challenge that we, as an industry, will face is to deliver on these timelines. I believe we are ready, given the automation, product maturity, radio platforms, the availability of CU/DU and the ecosystem readiness. All the work that has happened in the western part of the world is now going to deliver fruit here and we will help operators achieve those goals.
How is Mavenir helping MNOs to accelerate revenue generation?
A key challenge of 5G is how to monetise and generate revenue. This is where MNOs have to pick up the architecture and platform to allow them to rapidly deploy certain 5G services in a flexible and quick manner. Instead of revenues coming from one mass consumer market that the MNOs are serving today, we will see transformation as a lot of 5G will go to many small markets. There will be verticals such as manufacturing and automotive that have certain unique 5G needs. Operators will need the flexibility to provide 5G in those specific use cases and offer the customers to choose the services, network slices and configurations. That is where Mavenir can play a role in delivering cloud-native solutions that allow operators to remain flexible and customise their offerings all the way from packet core to RAN and radios, giving them all the tools to deploy 5G and scale up and down based on the capacity and the users.
How do you see 5G playing a role for a telecom operator in the enterprise space?
5G will be much wider in the enterprise space than any of the previous wireless generations. In 2G, 3G and 4G, there were business-to-business offerings from operators to enterprises but 5G will have a much deeper interaction in terms of not just providing coverage solutions for enterprise customers but also being a part of their operational structure. For example, in manufacturing solutions, we can control the manufacturing processes via the features of 5G. Features like ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) will allow controlling the behaviour of a machine to the level of a few milliseconds. The same thing applies to IVA in the security industry, a use case showcased by Vi at the IMC inauguration. This is how there is a win-win situation for enterprises to improve their productivity and for operators to create new sources of revenue and make the most of 5G. Further, standalone (SA) 5G will have certain advantages here. CSPs will have to focus on SA 5G as a key architecture and migrate to it as early as possible to be able to serve the enterprise’s needs.
What are the trends Mavenir sees in the larger market, as multiple industries invest in technologies enabling open, automated mobile networks?
We are building our products on open interfaces and leveraging cloud-native technologies. If there is innovation happening in the IT and public cloud industry, it applies to our workload as well. It is no different from a cloud-native workload. As people start to think about open vRAN, they will see that there are no barriers to using innovations happening in adjacent industries. That is not possible today in the way networks are deployed, as there are monolithic solutions that are controlled end-to-end. Automation cannot be brought into this. But open vRAN offers CSPs the flexibility to find the best sources of innovation and plug them into their network. Also, the beauty of SA 5G architecture is that the packet core is cloud-native. This allows to rapidly deploy automation and monetise 5G.
What are some of the security trends in the 5G era? How can networks be secured?
The 3GPP standards have security built into them. From how the user before getting on the network is authenticated to how the traffic is ciphered, all that is part of the 3GPP standard. That does not change, whether you are deploying open vRAN or any other network. Security is one of our key requirements in the way we build products. Any software goes through our security scan to make sure all the known vulnerabilities are addressed, and the latest versions are adopted. That is one of the key security trends in Mavenir, in addition to what is specified in 3GPP standards.