Mavenir Systems is in the midst of a reinvention. The company, which makes software to help operators deliver IP-based services like voice, video, and messaging over their LTE networks, is now working on a software-based extensible Radio Access Network (xRAN) architecture that could make hardware-based RAN a thing of the past.
Mavenir has been in quite a transition lately. The company launched in 2005, went public in 2013, and then was purchased by Mitel in 2015. Mitel then turned around and sold Mavenir’s assets to Siris Capital Group, which then merged Mavenir with Xura, which acquired Ranzure Networks on February 1 and then divested Xura’s non-core enterprise messaging business. The result is a new Mavenir dedicated to creating a software-based RAN. The company is headed by former Xura CEO Pardeep Kohli and is based in Richardson, Texas.
In an interview with SDxCentral, Kohli said the company’s business goal is to make the radio piece of the network open, and it has aligned itself with the xRAN Foundation, a consortium formed last year to promote software-based RAN. Deutsche Telekom is a founding member of the xRAN Foundation and other members include AT&T, SK Telecom, and Verizon.
The xRAN group set forth some goals to change RAN architecture in the following three areas:
- Decouple the RAN control plane from the user plane, build a modular eNode B software stack that operates on common-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, and publish open north- and south-bound interfaces to the industry;
- Migrate formerly tightly-bound-to-RAN hardware devices into accessible computing devices to allow the RAN to be more efficiently orchestrated as a logical pool of capacity; and
- Standardize north and southbound interfaces with multiple vendor support and interoperability.
According to Kohli, Mavenir’s technology separates the RAN control plane from the user plane and then uses software that operates on Intel processors. However, it could also use off-the-shelf or general purpose hardware.
This in turn allows operators to do things like carrier aggregation without having to switch out hardware. “Every year you see operators adding more carrier aggregation, but every time they add more functionality, they have to switch out hardware on the base station,” Kohli said.
Plus, it also allows operators to make better use of their towers, which often sit idle for huge amounts of time. “Basically a huge amount of capacity is sitting idle,” Kohli said. “When it is in the cloud, you can share it. You can share hardware capacity across users.”
Kohli said that by sharing hardware capacity across users, the wireless operators can learn from the webscale companies, which are already doing this. “In a small cell siting scenario in your home you have a box with a Qualcomm chip that is hardly ever getting used,” he said. “But if you put that in a data center it’s shared across users.”
Mavenir is currently conducting trials of its technology with operators in North America, and it plans to go live with its software-based RAN system next year. Through the xRAN Foundation, the company is pushing for the software-based RAN standards to be incorporated in the 3GPP standards.
But noticeably absent from the xRAN Foundation is the participation of large vendors like Ericsson and Nokia. Kohli said that is because those firms want to keep pushing their existing radios and not change to the software model.
But he believes operators will force the change. “80 percent to 90 percent of an operator’s capital is spent on the radio. What is the point of doing projects like Domain 2.0 [AT&T’s name for its project to virtualize its network] if you can’t apply it to 90 percent of your costs and bring those costs down?” Kohli asked.