Airspan Networks went public on August 13 via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) called New Beginnings Acquisition (NBA). Airpsan's stock is now trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol "MIMO."
According to an 8K filing last week, Airspan is now valued in the $700 million range.
Although Airspan’s name has been coming up a lot lately in open radio access network (RAN) conversations, Airspan CEO Eric Stonestrom told Fierce that the company’s work is much more broad. It makes network communications hardware and software “that connects cell phones and CP devices to the internet and carriers’ networks.” He said its competitors are Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei.
The Boca Raton-based company has some high-profile customers including Rakuten Mobile, Reliance Jio and SoftBank. And its investors include Dish Network, SoftBank and Qualcomm.
“We’ve been doing open architectures for some time even in 4G with SoftBank, said Stonestrom. “One of our largest deployments is with Jio in India. That was pre-open RAN.” He said Airspan has helped Jio do a lot of 4G cellular densification, using Airspan’s mini macro base stations.
But he considers Rakuten as Airspan’s “marquee case.” Airspan, in conjunction with Altiostar, has done a mixture of small cells for Rakuten, including 4G hotspots and 28 GHz mmWave 5G small cells.
Asked if Airspan is working with Dish Network on its new greenfield 5G network (considering that Dish is an investor in Airspan), Stonestrom said, “We are not in that mix, but we are working with them in some other ways. We have been active with them ‘in the art of the possible.’”
In the U.S. Airspan will probably also benefit from the government’s program to reimburse smaller carriers for their expenses to rip out and replace their Huawei gear.
Stonestrom said, “We have been interacting with the CCA members who have rip-and-replace mandates. The opportunities are great with Huawei being taken out of the supply chain.”
The FCC and other government groups seem enthused about the possibilities of open RAN technology to replace equipment from the Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE. But some smaller carriers have expressed concern about their ability to deploy an open RAN network. These smaller carriers don’t have large engineering teams.
Stonestrom said, “We don’t envision hundreds of ecosystem vendors.” He said Airspan has a partnership with Rakuten, which offers its Rakuten Communications Platform. And it also has arrangements with systems integrators to make sure open RAN is not a daunting task for smaller carriers.
Strand cable opportunity
Airspan is also eyeing opportunities with cable companies.
It worked with the cable provider Altice to deploy more than 20,000 small cells in Long Island for the benefit of Altice’s mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) wireless customers. Most of these small cells are hung on cable strands.
Stonestrom said “cable is a wonderful infrastructure” for wireless because it has ready access to power and full Docsis backhaul. And it solves what he considers the biggest problem for outdoor, which is zoning and permitting. “Think of it as getting a very low-cost platform out into the network that cable companies can use with CBRS without having towers,” he said.
Airspan is targeting other cable operators that want to take advantage of their aerial strand infrastructure to converge wired and wireless networks. Prime candidates are Charter and Comcast, which both purchased Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum in September 2020. They could use this spectrum, along with their own wireless infrastructure, to offload traffic from Verizon’s network, saving on wholesale costs.
“Airspan has been uniquely able to package a whole lot of radio into the form factor that cable can put up the boxes without site-by-site approval,” Stonestrom said.