Axiata plans major Open RAN deployments by year end

  • 'Large scale' rollouts in Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka aims to narrow rural digital divide
  • Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, Infosys listed among telco's Open RAN partners
  • Claims to be first operator to use satellite backhaul for an Open RAN deployment

Open RAN gained further traction on Monday when Asian multi-market operator Axiata announced plans for what it calls a large scale deployment of open, disaggregated radio access network technology before the end of this year.

The operator is targeting rural locations in its home market Malaysia, as well as deployments in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. It reckons Open RAN offers an economical means of reducing the digital divide in these areas. The plan is to overhaul its 2G and 4G networks first, paving the way for 5G further down the line.

"Open RAN is the future for mobile networks, and it will be critical for 4G expansions as well as the 5G evolution that Axiata's markets will soon embrace," declared Thomas Hundt, group EVP of technology at Axiata. "The benefits from open networks will enable Axiata to better serve rising connectivity needs across the region, especially in rural and underserved areas, whilst ensuring sustainable value creation for our stakeholders."

There are two more things worth noting about Axiata's Open RAN deployment. One is that Axiata will commercially deploy 4G radios based on the Telecom Infra Project (TIP)'s Evenstar specification, making it the first operator in the world to do so. It also plans to use microwave and satellite backhaul links to connect some of the more remote sites. Using satellite backhaul in an Open RAN deployment is, according to Axiata, another world first.

"Our successful trials in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia prove that Open RAN solutions enable greater operational and cost efficiencies using advanced technologies, whilst also meeting the needs of our digital inclusion efforts across the region," Hundt said.

Axiata, which also has operations in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Nepal, has picked some familiar names for its Open RAN rollout. Mavenir will supply its MAVair Open vRAN solution, which includes its all G Open RAN, packet core and mobile network applications, at selected sites in Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

"The collaboration will transform existing networks into a dynamic, agile and cloud-native based platform where Mavenir and Axiata will build the networks of the future," noted Mavenir CEO Pardeep Kohli.

Mavenir has been making the headlines a lot, lately. Recent milestones include demonstrating in partnership with Deutsche Telekom and MobiledgeX a cloud-native, distributed User Plane Function (UPF), which will help operators in the quest to deliver low-latency edge services. It also announced a partnership with chip maker Qualcomm that covers the co-development of Open RAN-based 4G and 5G RAN platforms for small cells.

Back to the Axiata news, and in Sri Lanka, Axiata's Dialog unit has also been trialling Open RAN with Parallel Wireless. That partnership will continue as Axiata moves to commercial deployment.

Parallel Wireless has teamed up with a number of key partners, including server vendor SuperMicro and radio vendors Gigatera and Comba, to enable any Axiata group operator to provide 2G and 4G connectivity from the same radio deployments over 1800 MHz spectrum. (See this news announcement for further details.)

"We are honoured to partner with Axiata, replacing their incumbent vendors' equipment with our leading-edge Open RAN Solution to enable 2G and 4G broadband services in Sri Lanka and other Axiata subsidiaries. We are thrilled that the trials are successful, and we look forward to the commercial deployments in 2021," said Parallel Wireless president Keith Johnson.

Meanwhile, Infosys will provide systems integration services.

"Together with our partners Mavenir, Parallel Wireless and Infosys, and in line with the global connectivity push under the Telecom Infrastructure Project, Axiata is committed towards embracing fully automated infrastructure to boost the open networks ecosystem in Asia," Hundt said.

- Nick Wood, reporting for TelecomTV

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