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22 November 2019

Parallel Wireless and OpenRAN—the face of the new mobile vendor?

Parallel Wireless has been a leading light in the small cell market with its virtualized architecture, which has been deployed in markets where traditional architectures can be hard to cost-justify, including public safety systems in large venues, and rural networks in the UK, USA and elsewhere.

The company is looking to accelerate its progress by becoming a very active player in the Telecom Infra Project, where it gained high profile last year when it was accepted as compliant with five out of seven request for information (RFI) elements, issued by Vodafone and Telefónica.

Now, Parallel is piling up trials and some commercial roll-outs based on TIP OpenRAN specifications, with new developments like Vodafone’s major request for quotes (RFQs – see lead item) holding out the tantalizing prospect of being able to move into operators’ mainstream RANs.

Parallel is behind one of the first commercial OpenRAN networks, being deployed in 4G by Internet para Todos, a wholesale service provider owned by Telefónica, Facebook and two Latin American banks, IDB Invest and CAF.

Internet para Todos operates around 650 mobile sites covering about 800,000 people in Peru. About half of these have come from a traditional OEM (reported to be Huawei), while the other half are OpenRAN from Parallel.

David del Val Latorre, Telefónica’s CEO of R&D, said the OpenRAN sites cost half the amount of the others to procure and deploy, which makes it more feasible to extend connectivity to remote and low income communities, and start to chase Facebook’s stated goal of connecting “the next billion”. Internet para Todos has signed up 450,000 subscribers since its launch in May this year.

Del Val Lattore said Parallel had been selected because it was the first to be ready with commercial OpenRAN products and was “getting there” in terms of full open interoperability. Telefónica has also made an investment in Altiostar, which is developing virtual network functions (VNFs) for OpenRAN too.

So del Val Latorre is clearly looking for a fully multivendor system in future, as more vendors’ products come to maturity; and he also believes there is a long way to go in terms of the total cost of ownership (TCO) of open networks. While capex and roll-out costs may have been driven down, well below the prices of closed systems, the operating costs are more important. “When you take everything together, the difference is not as great,” del Val Latorre told the TIP Summit.

And operators are also concerned about operational complexity in multivendor environments, at least before the industry reaches the nirvana of fully automated, fully plug-and-play networks. The old monolithic OSS and network management will not work in a virtualized, multivendor, disaggregated system, but the Telefónica executive admitted this is currently hardly too manage at scale.

Parallel has announced another new OpenRAN win, with pan-African group MTN. The vendor says it is delivering a software-defined end-to-end OpenRAN solution to support 5,000 rural small cell sites across MTN’s 21-country footprint.

The operator’s CEO, Rob Shuter, said in a statement: “Our group technology team has been pioneering OpenRAN, concluding field trials in Zambia in 2018 and deploying commercial sites from the beginning of 2019. We focus on creating viable new RAN solutions alongside the traditional deployments of network technology suppliers in order to accelerate the rural expansion in our markets.”

The Parallel solution is allowing MTN to run 2G, 3G and 4G on the same virtualized base station, and the remote radio units are also software upgradable to 5G. The supplier’s OpenRAN Controller virtualizes the BSC for 2G, RNC for 3G, and small cell and core gateways for 4G.