Mavenir focused on upending network economics
SINGAPORE–Discussions of 5G are typically focused on the new applications that consumers and enterprises can use. The other side of that coin is the money operators have to spend to do that. Think of operators as manufacturers of capacity–5G makes better use of network and spectral resources thereby making it cheaper to produce bits per hertz per second. Facing a data explosion or data tsunami or whatever disaster comparison you like, 5G gives carriers the opportunity to better serve customers in a way that could help them save money while opening up new revenue streams. But getting from today to that particular tomorrow involves a number of careful considerations.
Sam Saba, Mavenir’s vice president and head of APAC, expects 5G to reach “critical mass” next year but, for operators, it’s a huge challenge to turn 5G into a positive business case. He reflected on how LTE gave over-the-top, webscale players the ability to use networks they spent no money building to make money. “We cannot continue to do the same with 5G. If we continue…repeating what we’ve done before,” it won’t work. He said the past four generations of cellular were all about connecting people whereas 5G is about connecting people and everything else.
So how do operators connect everything in a way that helps offset the billions that go into doing that? You need three things, Saba said: An infrastructure migration to NFV and cloud; adopting open radio access network solutions; and a cloud-native core network.
He called out Japan’s Rakuten, an e-commerce provider that’s poised to enter the market as a fourth MNO. “They’re effectively a fully open source, cloud-native network from core all the way to the access. They’re real pioneers in this space. They’re taking full advantage in essence of everything I talked about.” Saba said Rakuten, a Mavenir customer, is “seen as a proof point for all of this virtualization and the way we now want to change the way we’ve been building mobile networks.” And that aligns with venture-backed Mavenir’s mission–to be a “software-driven, end-to-end mobile network provider.”
Extending virtualization from the core to the RAN
According to research from GSMA Intelligence, AT&T reported Q3 2018 capex of $5.9 billion against $45.7 billion in revenue; Verizon spent $12 billion year-to-date in Q3 last year against quarterly revenue of $32.6 billion in revenue. “RAN is where all the dollars are spent,” Mavenir SVP John Baker said. And, in the U.S., those RAN dollars primarily go to two vendors–Nokia and Ericsson, he said.
Base stations today are a cabinet and radio with the necessary plumbing, he said. With a virtualized RAN, you swap out those proprietary boxes for general-purpose servers running specialized software. “We’re looking at exploiting how virtual RAN changes the cost make up of building a network.” This can amount to something in the neighborhood of 40% savings, he said. “That’s really what’s driving the network operators to focus on this. It’s all about openness in the future.”
With 5G, the big differentiator for operators will be the ability to quickly spin-up new services. But if they’re all using the exact same equipment, “It makes it very hard for the operators to compete. The operators have a lot of hard decision-making to do. If they have a problem, they give it to Nokia and Ericsson. If operators focused on forcing open interfaces, there’d be a lot more vendors in the market. Something’s got to change to ensure the future of the mobile industry.”
Jefferson Airplane or Jefferson Starship?
“We built this city, we built this city on” ubiquitous connectivity? That’s borrowed from one of Mavenir CTO of APAC Paul Jesemann’s slides. His analogy was predicated on 5G’s built-in support for massive IoT–the latest generation of cellular can support 1 million devices per square kilometer as compared to 60,000-ish devices per square kilometer on LTE.
In many ways, smart cities are the ultimate application of 5G in that, from a macro-view, a full-on smart city would combine enhanced mobile broadband, massive IoT and low latency to turn data points into actionable insight in service of everything from transportation and environmental quality to improving municipal services and increasing access to those services. “The city of the next century,” as Jesemann put it, “will be built on ubiquitous connectivity.”
Now, for my own tortured Jefferson Airplane is to LTE as Jefferson Starship is to 5G analogy: Jefferson Airplane pioneered psychedelic rock just as LTE pioneered high-quality personal connectivity. Jefferson Starship, fronted by Grace Slick like its predecessor but without Jorma Kaukonen’s smooth, intricate guitar playing, refined that raw, psychedelic sound into the seventies and arena-rock eighties–honing what made Airplane great and bringing loads more fans (devices) into the fold. In response to a question from RCR Wireless News, Jesemann revealed that he prefers Jefferson Airplane. (For those of you still reading, totally worth it, right?)
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