Automated and open networks are now emerging as the next big thing in the telecommunications space. In this regard, 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, Bejoy Pankajakshan, executive vice-president and chief technology and strategy officer, Mavenir, shares his views on the proliferation of automated and open networks, Mavenir’s advancements in this space and future trends…

How are operators embracing virtualised, open networks with agile automation to meet future demands? What are the key adoption trends?

Virtualised and automated mobile networks that leverage open architectures and cloud technologies are clearly the path forward for progressive operators. Recently, Mave­nir commissioned a survey with GSMA’s Mobile World Live, which reached out to executives from global network operators about virtualisation, public and private clo­ud strategies, multi-generation networks, op­en radio access network (O-RAN) and network automation. The results show most mobile networks are moving to software-based networks, with a healthy portion also implementing O-RAN and moving some operations to the public cloud.

Operators recognise the need for tools that will enable them to maximise their returns on these investments and to keep up with changing demands. Advances in the virtualisation technology are helping to accelerate O-RAN adoption. With virtualisation comes the opportunity to adopt automated processes that speed up upgra­des, provision new services dynamically, en­able network slicing for specific customers and use cases and more importantly, man­age cost. Virtualisation is also helping operators control costs, even as they add complexity to their networks. The automation enabled by virtualisation reduces the nu­mber of people needed to manage the day-to-day operations, freeing engineers for development and innovation. This is the advantage of software-defined networks.

The adoption of cloud-native technology needs to consider the telco network’s uniqueness as a critical component in national safety and information security. All mobile network operators expect reliability and high service-level commitment, especially Tier I operators. While automation is the way to improve and optimise the telco network operation, it is also important to understand that telco network automation will have to incorporate human checkpoints and decision-making for reliability and security reasons.

What trends do you see in the larger market as multiple industries invest in technologies that will enable open, automated mobile networks?

Operators globally, large and small, are preparing to leverage 5G by investing in open and autonomous networks that can support all software in any cloud environment. These investments will enable mo­bile broadband today and deliver a ran­ge of new services tomorrow, from real-time video analytics processing to remote medicine to vehicle-to-everything communications.

From semiconductors to servers to software, companies are investing in virtualised, automated platforms that support mobile networks because they recognise the role that these networks will play in the future economy. Mobility is becoming foundational to industry and commerce, and innovative vendors that align with the larger ecosystem of investment will be best positioned to help operators prepare to ca­pitalise on the future. That is why 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. Mavenir brings to market an end-to-end fully cloud-native open solution portfolio, enabling operators to migrate functions to software and manage the entire network with a single automation toolset.

How does Mavenir see O-RAN technology being used by telcos globally?

O-RAN is not a technology, it is rather an ongoing shift in mobile network architecture design that allows disaggregated networks to be built using components from a variety of vendors. The key concept of O-RAN is “opening” protocols and interfaces among various components (radios, hardware and software) in the access network. As a technical matter, this is what the in­d­us­try refers to as disaggregated RAN. The benefits of this approach include inc­reas­ed network agility and flexibility, inc­reased innovation and cost savings.

Telcos, especially smaller ones, are looking at the public cloud as a means to lower their overall network transformation cost as part of adopting O-RAN. Ma­­ve­­nir is also showing a greater interest in the adoption of public clouds across the customer base in the context of O-RAN and hence, we recently stepped mo­re agg­ressively into this space by working with all major players to integrate our software for operators and also introducing our own radio hardware to complement our end-to-end solutions. We continue to look at opportunities to grow inorganically that fit in our po­rt­folio and offer an opportunity to provide value to our customers. Our recent acquisitions of Telestax and ip.access are examples of our approach.

What will be the disadvantages for operators who do not embrace O-RAN?

The value of agile and autonomous networks is clear, but this transformation will require commitment and discipline from operators. Some may only express interest in cloud-native architectures and autonomy but fail to fully execute them because people and processes are inherently resistant to change. Other operators may eschew these principles altogether, considering them too risky. But the real risk is in postponing network transformation to O-RAN becau­se tomorrow’s mobile networks will need to support much more than voice and mo­bile broadband, and cannot be realised with traditional lock-in network deployment models controlled by a few companies. Operators that fail to adapt may be marginalised by competitors that embrace open, cloud-ready networks and invest in orchestration solutions to enable end-to-end automation.

How will Mavenir’s advancements in the O-RAN ecosystem change the future?

There are a lot of opportunities that 5G presents for innovation in areas such as cloud and application security, intelligent data routing, artificial intelligence (AI)/ machine-learning (ML)-based RAN control, network slicing and industrial internet of things. We are carefully evaluating new areas where it makes sense for us to in­vest, complementing our existing pro­ducts in the short-to-mid term, and we are confident of delivering value with our fu­tu­re plans to our customers.

Mavenir is leveraging its past strengths in virtualisation and cloud-native software to lead the industry in the softwarisation and cloudification of RAN networks. We are enabling new players to enter the market, traditionally controlled by a handful of vendors, and bring innovation and disruption by widening the supply chain. We will enable convergence of the telecom and IT industries and this will completely change how telecom is viewed in the future.

We are the leading O-RAN vendor in Dish and are already supplying our virtualised O-RAN software solutions to Orange, as the French operator launches Europe’s first 5G stand-alone end-to-end cloud network. Orange has also opened France’s first O-RAN laboratory, enabling radio ve­n­­dors to test the interoperability and performance of their components with th­o­se made by other suppliers. Other mo­bile network operators (MNOs) including Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Telefonica, Vo­dafone Idea, TIM, Türk Telekom, Turkcell, Airtel, NTT Docomo and Axiata have made similar public announcements and are committed to the implementation of open and autonomous networks.

What are the future trends that you foresee in the O-RAN space?

Most 5G deployments are just adding 5G frequencies on today’s cell sites. Many are not thinking of what 5G should really be in terms of service latency and densification of the site, which really makes a substantial difference in how new services/ features are perceived by users. And what about 5G evolution, 6G and beyond? The key is to evolve the architecture to make it more future-proof and ready to take advantage of rapidly developing technological advancements. The future network architecture must be flexible and fit many use cases.

Until last year, it has not been possible to connect a radio unit from one vendor to the baseband processing unit of another vendor. In a closed architecture, new advancements can mean a year or two of interoperability assessments and design, followed by months of integration testing. Each communication service provider re­pea­ts everything individually. With O-RAN, every phase is shortened because components can already interoperate with one another. They are naturally interoperable because they have been designed and developed according to an open standard interface. O-RAN System on Chi­ps from players such as Qualcomm, Nvi­dia, Marvel and Intel will further accelerate the deployment and generate value in many industry verticals.

As O-RAN implementations continue to grow, the ecosystem of RAN providers will expand. Investments are already flowing into mobile networks from many industries and this trend is likely to accelerate in the coming years, as wireless networking becomes foundational to industrial operations, healthcare, education and logistics. Mavenir can help MNOs thrive and excel in this new environment by de­veloping agile, intelligent and autonomous networks that can run all kinds of software in any cloud.