DISH commits to Open RAN for US 5G rollout, enters retail mobile market

  • Fujitsu and Altiostar selected for 5G rollout
  • Entire Dish 5G network will be Open RAN-compliant
  • Dish looks a prime candidate to tap into the Rakuten Communications Platform
  • Dish enters retail mobile market with acquisition of Boost Mobile

US wireless newcomer Dish has taken two significant steps towards achieving its goal of becoming a major player in the US wireless market: It completed the $1.4 billion acquisition of Boost Mobile from T-Mobile US, giving it an instant retail mobile business with 9 million customers; and added more meat to its Open RAN bones with the selection of Fujitsu and Altiostar as the latest named suppliers of technology for its 5G network.

Fujitsu’s Low Band Tri-Band Radio Unit and Mid Band Dual-Band Radio Unit tech will be deployed at DISH’s macro sites around the US, while Altiostar joins Mavenir as a supplier of cloud native open virtual RAN software. Fujitsu will also provide support for radio and antenna integration and ensure that the radio units and distributed units are fully interoperable. 

"As we deploy radio units and connect them to our cloud-native network, we look for industry-leading quality, best and proven radio performance and zero-touch automation," said Marc Rouanne, Dish Chief Network Officer. "Fujitsu is a global leader in 5G radios, advocating for and advancing alternatives to the traditional hardware-based RAN. Their products and expertise are extremely valuable as we use O-RAN architecture to build our entire 5G network."

Rouanne, who was previously President of Mobile Networks at Nokia, was equally praising of Altiostar:  "By using open architecture to build the first standalone 5G network in the U.S., we are able to work with the best vendors from across the supply chain to effectively serve multiple segments, including consumers, enterprises and emerging 5G vertical markets… Altiostar's proven expertise in O-RAN will allow us to build an open mobile network with the automation, resilience and agility needed to deliver services that will differentiate us in the wireless market."

This is all interesting in and of itself: Dish, which has committed to covering 70% of the US population by June 2023 with its standalone 5G network, is planning a different type of network to its incumbent rivals AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, and this will be a major test of the carrier-grade credentials of an Open RAN architecture, which has yet to be proven at such a scale. And Dish can’t really afford to get this wrong.

What’s just as interesting, though, is whether Dish will leverage the experience and technology on offer from the current kind of greenfield Open RAN, next-gen network deployments, Rakuten Mobile. The Japanese operator is a major shareholder in Altiostar following the company’s involvement in its Series C round of funding last year and is set to offer Altiostar software as part of the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) it is building to offer a full suite of “solutions and services for the deployment of virtualized networks at speed and low cost by telecom companies and enterprises around the world, tailored for their unique needs.”

The RCP is currently being developed, with Rakuten Mobile announcing this week that is has set up a headquarters in Singapore but also a “US entity in California that will serve as a hub for international business expansion in the Americas.” 

That US entity will be very handy for Dish, which has a long way to go to figure out how best to build its network and how to integrate all the various elements, especially in an open architecture that has not been rolled out by many other companies: Rakuten Mobile likely knows more than any other company about the most efficient and optimum way to build an Open RAN network. 

Could Dish become the RCP’s reference client? It’s a good bet.

Dish’s announcement comes just as Open RAN becomes an ever bigger topic in the US telecoms market, with the FCC declaring Huawei and ZTE as national security threats and at least one FCC commissioner suggesting that existing deployments of the Chinese vendors’ network gear should be replaced by Open RAN technology.

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV 

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