Mavenir, Xilinx claim mMIMO Open RAN breakthrough

  • Vendor partners tackle major Open RAN challenge
  • Operators want to see 5G mMIMO capabilities from the Open RAN brigade
  • Mavenir and Xilinx say they’ve got the solution
  • Targeting commercial products for end of 2021

Open RAN technology specialist Mavenir and mobile infrastructure hardware components vendor Xilinx claim to have developed an end-to-end massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (mMIMO) portfolio for 4G and 5G networks based on Open RAN specifications, a move that signals a significant breakthrough in Open RAN R&D.

Commercial Open RAN systems are currently available from multiple vendors for network operators to deploy, but the industry consensus is that such disaggregated systems, which enable multi-vendor best-of-breed systems to be stitched together using open interfaces, don’t currently match the performance of traditional integrated mobile access network systems from the likes of Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia. 

Telcos have repeatedly noted in the past few years that Open RAN elements still require further development to make them competitive with traditional systems, with mMIMO capabilities for 5G rollouts regarded by many operators as table stakes for the inclusion of Open RAN vendors in major network rollout projects. 

For example, Yago Tenorio, Vodafone’s Head of Group Network Architecture, told TelecomTV during the Open RAN Summit late last year that “5G massive MIMO in particular is a complex problem to crack and will require not just a lot of software development but also hardware, in particular semiconductors… we will need new solutions to be developed in terms of chipsets that are powering those efficient, super-complex radios. It is difficult to say how long that is going to take maybe, you know, as little as maybe 12 months [to] 18 months to [achieve a] full solution.” (See 5G Massive MIMO is Open RAN’s toughest nut to crack, says Vodafone’s Tenorio.)

Well, Xilinx and Mavenir say they are on course to make an Open RAN-compliant mMIMO 64TR (64 transmit, 64 receive) package available for operator testing before the end of this year, having already completed tests of an integrated set of products and had that ‘integration’ evaluated by six major network operators in Mavenir’s labs in Bangalore. For that system, Mavenir provided the Virtualized RAN (vRAN) support for mMIMO (core network, centralized unit and distributed unit), while Xilinx provided the Category B O-RAN radio unit. 

“We will meet the 5G Open RAN latest market requirements for massive MIMO with high-end performance, high-performance radio… very efficient in power [consumption] and with costs in line with the market,” stated Gilles Garcia, Wired and Wireless Business Lead Senior Director at Xilinx.

The two companies are reluctant to say much else at this stage, though, as they believe they have a significant competitive advantage in having developed such a high-performance Open RAN set-up: During a briefing with TelecomTV the companies declined to provide any further technical details beyond what is shared in the press release, didn’t want to talk about any other partners that contributed to the successful lab tests (an ecosystem of partners has been developed, is all they would say), and did not want to identify the operators that evaluated the lab tests. 

The Mavenir team, though, says it is not just bringing software to the party: Job Benson, head of product management for radio products at Mavenir, says the vendor is geared up to provide full systems integration support and provide network monitoring and management capabilities.   

The initial implementation is very much geared to the US market, where network rollouts on C-band spectrum are expected during the next couple of years and where Open RAN is regarded as an increasingly viable option to traditional systems. With that in mind, and with the partners saying their systems are being developed based on major operator feedback, it’s hard to imagine that Verizon isn’t one of the operators interested in what Mavenir and Xilinx are developing. 

So, can this be regarded as a significant breakthrough? It’s a bit early to say, but heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown notes that the emergence of “64T/64R massive MIMO shows Open RAN will soon extend to higher performance 5G sites – this is an important step closer to parity with integrated systems.”

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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