President Trump has made a big deal about America “winning the race to be the world’s leader in providing 5G.” And American carriers AT&T, Verizon and Sprint are leaders as far as early 5G implementations.
But the fact is, these carriers get much of their 5G equipment and software from the biggest telecom vendors in the world: Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. And none of those vendors are American.
JMA Wireless, which is headquartered in Liverpool, New York, wants American telcos to buy its equipment, instead. And JMA's plan is to offer a thoroughly modern radio access network (RAN) platform that is 100% virtualized.
Todd Landry, corporate vice president for product and market strategy at JMA Wireless, said the company started looking at the evolution of the RAN about four years ago and came to the conclusion that it made the most sense to do everything in software. “We pretty much transformed our company into a virtual RAN platform company,” said Landry. “We now have all the pieces in networks today to cover 600MHz to mmWave spectrum. We’re the only American company doing that.”
The company’s technology includes its XRAN virtualized RAN software as well as technology from Phazr, a startup that JMA bought late last year.
Phazr brought its 5G New Radio vRAN portfolio to JMA, including a suite of 5G millimeter wave systems for the licensed-bands in the 24Ghz - 40GHz frequency range. Phazr’s approach paired millimeter wave spectrum for downlink with sub-6GHz spectrum for the uplink to enable 5G systems.
JMA claims it’s more virtualized than others
Landry said there are three different approaches to building the RAN today. First is the traditional approach taken by companies that provide proprietary hardware integrated with software. For example, Ericsson delivers such integrated systems. The company recently boasted that it made bets on hardware while the NR Release 15 standards were being worked out. And now Ericsson’s Radio System products delivered since 2015 are able to support 5G NR capability through a remote software installation.
The second approach to the RAN is a hybrid with some parts virtualized and other parts based on proprietary hardware. An example of this approach would be Mavenir. The company wants to disrupt the mobile industry with baseband units that are comprised of common-off-the-shelf servers with open software running on top. Mavenir’s focus is on providing software for the computational parts of the RAN. For the radios, Mavenir works with an ecosystem of third-party vendors.
The third approach, which JMA says it has, is a 100% virtualized baseband unit along with the radios, all from one company. And Landry said, “When we talk about virtualization of the RAN, there are several layers you can choose to virtualize. We elected to take the more difficult part and virtualize the lowest level of the RAN in pure software as well.”
In terms of the lower layers of the baseband, Landry said, “You have to figure out how to modulate which bits into which areas of phase and time of the spectrum which connects to the mobile phones out there. It’s a very dynamic situation. Sometimes it’s easier to do in hardware. We took the act of engineering all the layers in software. We don’t need to use an FPGA. It just runs in software.” He said JMA virtualizes Layers 1, 2 and 3 of the baseband unit.
About a year ago JMA worked with Telecom Italia in Bologna, Italy to install its virtualized RAN software on a two-rack unit in Telecom Italia’s headend. “We turned up cellular service in the entire downtown area where hundreds of thousands of connected users come through that area every day,” said Landry. “It’s actually commercialized, and it’s live today.”
In February JMA announced that the Italian mobile network operator Wind Tre was also using JMA’s virtualized RAN software through shared wireless infrastructure to connect its mobile subscribers in the city center of Bologna.