Two U.S. companies — Airspan Networks and Altiostar Networks — have worked closely with Rakuten Mobile to help get the Japanese carrier’s 4G radio access network (RAN) up and running. Rakuten plans to launch its greenfield network commercially on April 8.
Rakuten will launch its network with about 4,400 macro base station sites. But in addition, Rakuten is deploying tens of thousands of small cells to densify its network and help prepare it for a quick transition to 5G.
Airspan VP of Strategy and Marketing Damiano Coletti said the company, in conjunction with Altiostar, has done a mixture of small cells for Rakuten, including 4G hotspots and 28 GHz mmWave 5G small cells. “It’s already thousands of 4G hotspots, whether mostly pole-mounted or wall-mounted outdoors,” said Coletti. “Ultra-dense architectures are a fundamental complement to that macro network.”
Coletti said Airspan’s expertise includes boots-on-the-ground activities such as getting access to power and backhaul and dealing with zoning requirements. He said the 25-year-old company has done similar small-cell work with Reliance Jio in India and Sprint in the United States.
But Airspan’s work with Altiostar takes the RAN to a new level because the two companies have combined Airspan’s radio hardware with virtual RAN software contributions from both companies in collaboration with Rakuten.
Now, they want to offer combined products, based on their lessons learned, to other operators around the globe that are interested in virtual RAN.
Coletti said the RAN solutions would have to be customized for each operator around the world because they are all working with different spectrum bands, and they have different situations in terms of backhaul and available infrastructure. But he said the end-to-end platform that Airspan and Altiostar developed in conjunction with Rakuten is modular and it is also O-RAN and 3GPP compliant.
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In a recent conversation with Rakuten Mobile CTO Tareq Amin, he reminded that Rakuten has invested in Altiostar, a Boston-based company. “We wanted to protect the company from being acquired because we need a disrupter in this industry that could challenge incumbents,” said Amin.