Cohere adds DNA to its product family and signs Wibergh to its board

  • Cohere Technologies is making waves in the next-gen RAN sector
  • It has been raising funds and gaining telco traction
  • Now it has developed an automated antenna management tool called DNA
  • And it has signed up Vodafone Group’s former CTO Johan Wibergh to its board

Cohere Technologies is clearly aiming to make waves (if you’ll pardon the pun) ahead of the upcoming MWC23 jamboree in Barcelona. Having just announced an investment from, and trial with, Bell Canada for its spectrum multiplier technology, the company has now unveiled a new automated antenna management tool (cleverly) called Dynamic Network Alignment (DNA) that, the Cohere team claims, fills a gap in the radio access network (RAN) sector. 

Not only that, the San Jose, California-based vendor has signed up former Vodafone and Ericsson executive, Johan Wibergh, and former Microsoft executive and US National Security Council senior director, Amit Mital, to its board (of which more later). 

First, the DNA story. 

Over the past couple of years, Cohere has been involved in various tests and trials with network operators that are interested in how its universal spectrum multiplier (USM) software can improve the performance and capacity of their existing and future networks, including Open RAN deployments. 

The latest operator to check out Cohere’s tech is Canada’s national operator – see Bell Canada backs Open RAN hopeful Cohere Technologies.

As Cohere undertook one of those trials of its USM software with a major (but unidentified) network operator, it needed to adjust the beamforming settings (which point multiple antennas towards the same device to achieve higher throughput) on antennas in an automated way to help prove to the operator that its software could perform as promised. However, it found that such software wasn’t already available and, as a result, it had to develop its own, which has now become its new DNA product. 

“As part of the trials we've been in, specifically a large trial that has been going on for a while where we’ve been the end-to-end systems integrator and so have seen  pretty much everything in the network, we discovered there were no industry software tools that could directly monitor and see if MU-MIMO [multi-user MIMO] or massive MIMO was working well after being calibrated and deployed,” Cohere’s chief marketing officer (CMO) and head of business development, Ronny Haraldsvik, told TelecomTV. 

And for that large trial, one of the prerequisites from the operator was that the  whole process had to be undertaken with the existing 4T4R (four transmitting antennas, four receiving antennas) radios that were already deployed on the telco’s towers – Cohere wasn’t allowed to test with any new optimised antennas, noted Art King, Cohere’s director of product management and marketing

According to Haraldsvik, a veteran of the RAN sector, with current MU-MIMO and massive MIMO deployments it’s a case of “calibrate and walk away” as it is only possible to find out if the settings need to be changed (manually) once drive-by tests have been performed. “There’s very little insight” into how services are being affected by network conditions, local weather and other factors, “so to get our [USM] software working well, as promised in various different antenna configurations, we developed automated calibration software that [makes adjustments] without human intervention, so you always get the best possible MU-MIMO scenarios,” added the CMO. 

Haraldsvik did admit that there are existing systems that do provide some level of analysis and measurement of MU-MIMO performance, but nothing currently that sits in the network and automatically makes change to deliver the optimum beamforming settings for mobile data service provisioning, which is what the company is claiming DNA can do.

Cohere's move is part of a broader trend in the radio access networks sector right now, according to a respected industry analyst.

"There’s a lot of activity in the broad space of RAN analytics right now, and it’s very diverse, stretching from site planning tools to applications working deep in the physical layer,” noted Gabriel Brown, senior principal analyst, mobile networks, at Heavy Reading, in an email to TelecomTV. “Some of this innovation will stick, and operators will get better ways to optimise RAN assets and the customer experience. Cohere is operating close to/at the physical layer. Its unique play is its channel modelling technology, which it claims is superior to standard time/frequency techniques. Its DNA product applies this technology to existing or new radios and antennas to improve beamforming and massive MIMO,” added Brown, who noted that relationships with other vendors will be key to Cohere’s future prospects.

“Commercially, a key thing to watch is if, and how, Cohere is able to strike license agreements with radio vendors to integrate this technology – it’s one thing to know channel state, but the radio still needs to act on it. xApps, in future, might be a good route to market for its DNA software, but even in this model, close technology partnerships are required,” added the analyst.

Currently, the DNA tool is available as a bolt-on to the USM spectrum multiplier product, but it could work with other solutions and will, at some point, be available as a standalone product. Haraldsvik says the product has been tested at scale but didn’t want to reveal any more details in case it gave away the identity of the major telco involved in the trials.   

In the meantime, the USM and its DNA bolt-on continue to be tested and the whole package is on course to become commercially available to operators later this year. And the Cohere team is going out to market with a message that deploying USM in just part of a large brownfield mobile network could significantly increase network capacity with existing deployed radios and enable automated calibration. This could save a large operator tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in capital expenditure from not having to rip and replace their antenna technology to improve network performance and customer experience, the team suggests. That’s quite a claim but it’s the kind that grabs the attention of mobile operators in these capex-constrained times.  

That Cohere has something of interest for the mobile operator community is further verified by the company’s latest board appointments, Johan Wibergh and Amit Mital. 

Wibergh was, until recently, CTO at Vodafone Group, a position he held for about eight years. It’s worth noting that Vodafone is one of the operators that is engaging with Cohere and keeping very close tabs on the vendor’s developments (though no official tests or trials have been announced), so Cohere will be a company with which Wibergh is already familiar. Prior to his stint at Vodafone, Wibergh was head of the networks division at Ericsson, so has not only a very relevant background for Cohere but also a lot of senior industry contacts. 

“Cohere has a bold vision for the future and I’m excited to join the company and help it grow,”  stated Wibergh in an official announcement about his appointment. He also described Cohere’s USM technology as a “game changer”.  

Mital served as special assistant to the US president and as senior director at the National Security Council from 2021 to August 2022, where telecom and spectrum policy were in his remit. Previously he was founder and CEO at Kernel Labs, general manager and CTO at Symantec, and spent 20 years at Microsoft, where he was corporate VP for the startup business group. 

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV


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