IS-Wireless: Massive MIMO is “a battleground for the closed RAN” | Light reading

Microwave ovens are obviously meant to heat up yesterday’s leftover curry, but what if the processors inside them could also be used to operate part of a radio access network (RAN)? It’s an extreme example of reusing existing computing resources to create super-densified networks of the future, and the vision of Sławomir Pietrzyk, CEO of a Polish startup called IS-Wireless.

Pietrzyk believes the mobile telecommunications industry should prioritize such network densification over concepts like massive MIMO, an antenna-rich 5G technology championed by big kit vendors. “Traditional vendors are very interested in cementing their status quo by promoting hardware-oriented solutions,” he told Light Reading.

“I’m very skeptical of any proposition that a traditional vendor makes,” Pietrzyk said. “To me, it’s a trap, and the guys from the first wave of the open RAN were trapped on a battlefield prepared for someone else. This is a battlefield for the closed RAN.”

The ASTOR Robotics Center in Krakow, where IS-Wireless supplied open RAN technology.  (Source: IS-Wireless)

The ASTOR Robotics Center in Krakow, where IS-Wireless supplied open RAN technology.
(Source: IS-Wireless)

It obviously refers to a recent Ericsson-led proposal for an uplink change to open 7.2x fronthaul, the specification designed to support vendor interoperability between radio units (RU) and distributed units (DU) in the infrastructure RAN open. A compromise between that proposal (backed by AMD, Ericsson, Nokia and ZTE) and one from AT&T, Orange and Qualcomm has now been approved by the O-RAN Alliance, the group that develops the open RAN specification.

But it’s not universally popular. Ericsson argues that 7.2x open fronthaul is not suitable for Massive MIMO because too many critical components reside in the DU. But bringing some of these back to the RU, as he proposes, risks adding complexity and hampering the progress of the open RAN.

South Korea’s Samsung abstained from the vote over concerns over ecosystem fragmentation. Parallel Wireless, a small US-based developer of open RAN software, has done the same. And in an email sent to Light Reading, Japan’s Rakuten acknowledged that there had been “discussions about the downsides of making the O-RU [open radio unit] more complex with additional electronic processing demands on O&M, field maintenance costs, etc.”

Growing recognition

IS-Wireless is by far the smallest player so far to object to a proposed new specification. Based near the Polish capital of Warsaw, it employs around 50 people and has raised around $8 million in funds so far, according to the Crunchbase website. But he has built relationships with some big players in the ecosystem and asks to be heard.

This is largely because when the big five European telecommunications companies – Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefnica and Vodafone – released a white paper in November 2021, calling for a stronger European open RAN ecosystem, IS- Wireless was mentioned as the only small European software operator with a complete product portfolio.

Any rational observer might assume that a startup operating in an area that telecom companies find so critical would attract funding from the telecom companies’ own venture capital arms. But it was not so. “As far as funding is concerned, the capital supply side has actually become very difficult,” after the end of 2021, Pietrzyk said. “We were looking for a 10 million dollar round but in the meantime war broke out [in Ukraine] and that has changed a lot.”

Instead, IS-Wireless had to fund development through revenues. The good news is that sales for 2023 are already well above those achieved by the company in 2022 and are doubling quarter-over-quarter, according to Pietrzyk, though he wouldn’t cite the numbers. IS-Wireless is still looking for investment, but the need seems less critical. Any funds he manages to raise would be used to top up some efforts, Pietrzyk said.

While the report from the big telecommunications companies hasn’t led to new funding, it has generated some attention for IS-Wireless and led to some significant deals. Among these is a contract with Werner von Siemens in Germany to implement a small network in Berlin. Other companies involved in that project are Osram, a manufacturer of electric lights; Fraunhofer, a German research institute; and T-Systems, the IT side of Deutsche Telekom and a company Pietrzyk evidently considers an important partner.

Appetite for densification

What sets IS-Wireless apart from all the other open RAN developers out there? In addition to his Europeanness, Pietrzyk makes some bold claims for his company’s software. Competitors he derides as “wave-one” players often come from a 4G background and have only come so far when it comes to unbundling, he argues.

“The protocol stack for the RAN, even when split into DUs and CUs, is still block-based. It’s still a monolith that brings up a server that needs to be dedicated and that needs to be somewhere on site,” he said. “That architecture hasn’t changed in decades. It’s part of the traditional RAN and is somewhat followed by the vendors of the first wave of open RAN.”

IS-Wireless claims to have a software stack, covering all the various functions from Layer 1 to Layer 3, that can be disaggregated into much smaller elements than DUs and CUs. This essentially means that a DU could be split across several hardware devices, including the computing infrastructure currently in the field. While Pietrzyk’s example of the microwave processor might be a colorful exaggeration, IS-Wireless was able to put its RAN on a customer server in Krakow that already supports other applications, Pietrzyk said.

He’s not prepared to share many technical details of the software at this stage, noting that IS-Wireless has a patent filed for the technology. But use words like “fluid” and “liquid” to describe the overall concept. “We granularize and break down the software stack into many little pieces,” he said. “It’s a kind of fluidity or liquidity in a software stack: a liquid that you pour into a module and when it freezes you have your solution.”

Bet on the future

All of this raises many unanswered questions at this stage. Pietrzyk admits that openness has limits, and that separating software from hardware is much more difficult at layer 1, the part of the stack responsible for compute-intensive baseband processing. This seems to partly explain his aversion to massive MIMO. “If you want to be portable and have systems that are widely available, you should simplify things that were previously complex.”

His vision of a world where edge networks are pervasive and computing infrastructure is ubiquitous also seems a long way off. Massive MIMO appears to be mainstream and frequently shows up in telco RFPs (requests for proposal) to vendors. Most operators in Europe have, at the same time, done little or nothing on network densification.

But Pietrzyk is clearly excited by the rise of neutral hosts like Cellnex, an infrastructure company that leases tower space and network equipment to retail operators. And he expects to see even more in the coming years. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the owners of non-telecommunications infrastructure like cities, gas stations and kiosks get involved because they have a very important asset, and that is location,” he said. “The physics won’t change, and we need to thicken.”

To support its go-to-market strategy, IS-Wireless has partnered with a wide variety of companies, from Indian system integrators to Taiwanese hardware manufacturers. But there is a real need for companies investing in RAN infrastructure to share Pietrzyk’s vision and decide that his software can help them make it happen.

His hope is that the market will look vastly different from the operators by mid-2020, when the contracts signed in recent years have run their course. “Before that, their hands are tied as they are in a vendor lock-in situation with Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei,” she said. The next few years will show if he’s right.

Related posts:

Iain Morris, international editor, light reading

#ISWireless #Massive #MIMO #battleground #closed #RAN #Light #reading
Image Source :

Leave a Comment