Operators have traditionally sourced proprietary equipment for the baseband unit of the radio access network (RAN) from vendors such as Nokia and Ericsson. But Mavenir is challenging these vendors with baseband units that are comprised of x86 servers with open software running on top.
“Our goal is to disrupt the mobile industry by looking at the whole network as software rather than hardware,” said John Baker, Mavenir’s SVP of business development. The company works with an ecosystem of radio providers, but its own focus is on providing software for the computational parts of the RAN.
“Today if you look at a cell site you see all these boxes on the ground,” said Baker. “It’s locked in by the current vendor. Whereas we do stuff on x86 servers with open interfaces.”
Mavenir is following the trend of disaggregating hardware from software that most major operators have already successfully been doing in their core networks. Most major operators are already well down the path of this disaggregation, or virtualization, of their core. For instance, AT&T is on the final leg of having 75% of its core network virtualized by 2020.
But instead of the core network, Mavenir is focusing on the RAN. “The baseband unit is the piece we’re replacing with software,” said Baker. “We’re showing that commercially you can do it in software.” Mavenir's product is based on Intel’s FlexRAN reference architecture.
Baker claims proprietary equipment costs from $16,000-$20,000 per unit, while Mavenir’s software on common-off-the-shelf servers saves 50% in capex.
Mavenir almost seems like a new entrant in the radio space the last couple of years. But in fact, the company has been around in one form or another since 2006, according to a Mavenir spokeswoman. The Richardson, Texas-based company has about 2,500 employees and is currently owned by Siris Capital.
According to the spokeswoman, Mavenir has over 350 carrier customers worldwide. “We were there for the 3G and 4G transformations,” she said. “We already had solid relationships with Tier 1 operators. We did well against Ericsson and Nokia. Then Siris Capital re-architected the new Mavenir two years ago, with a complete end to end offering and a RAN solution for 5G.”
In addition to its interest in 5G business with Tier 1 operators, Mavenir says its vRAN technology supports the mmWave bands and could be useful in rural areas. “You can use a small server and software in that rural location,” said Baker. “Before it would have been too expensive.”
He said rural areas usually have some macro coverage, “but you still haven’t got a lot of bandwidth out there.” The coverage could be extended by bringing in microwave hops and then using mmWave to “get into the home.”