5G ecosystems are full of emerging technologies making digitalisation more accessible with speed, reliability and scale, already unlocking significant potential for dynamic industries. Further increasing the potential benefits, Open RAN is evolving to be the future telecom backbone by improving competition, cost and network flexibility. Airspan, a US-based hardware and software provider for 5G networks, has been a pioneer in end-to-end Open RAN solutions. Eric D. Stonestrom, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Airspan was with the CEOViews team to share details about their Open Ran Innovation.
Airspan provides a broad array of end-to-end RAN solutions for private networks, public networks, and fixed wireless access.
Inception and mission
Founded in 1998, Airspan from the very beginning has aimed to be a technology driver in the world of wireless. Uniquely positioned in a number of countries from early on, it has marketed technical expertise to partner with real disruptors in mobile networks, as well as to deliver outstanding service to future-facing network buildouts from Tier 1 carriers to aviation installations. They started on the tail-end of 2G era and since then, have continued to fulfil their mission of innovation and excellence to take on the 5G era across public networks, private networks and more recently fixed wireless.
Airspan started off with WiMax, a FWA technology, which gave them valuable insight to jump into a bigger market when the fourth generation of mobile phones kicked in. They disrupted the market with small cells (low-power radios), which helped to address coverage gaps, like specially indoors, and also to boost aggregate capacity in hot spots. The secret sauce of success was to bring equipment that was easy to install and maintain. Airspan grew with big names like Reliance Jio and Sprint, delivering more than 800,000 4G radios world-wide. In 5G, the market widened even further with private networks opening an entirely new market beyond carriers. For the last 4 years, Airspan has been developing 5G radios for the new markets and has successfully positioned as the key partner for Private Networks and for densification of public networks.
Open RAN solutions
Airspan provides a broad array of end-to-end RAN solutions for private networks, public networks, and fixed wireless access. In 5G they jumped onboard with Open RAN, a new disruptive architecture that disaggregates the software from the hardware, allowing more and more customization. For the private and public networks, Airspan has created a modular approach of radios, capable of bringing a totally disaggregated architecture or an all-in-one approach Open RAN.
In fixed wireless access, the recently introduced 6-series provides plug-and-play gigabit speed across access points (A6), backhauls (B6x), and clients (C6x). Additionally, the ACP (Airspan Control Platform) software suite is a highly-configu- rable NMS, designable and upgradable to deliver a single-pane-of-glass answer to manage any network. Finally, the world-class support team is both remote and on-site across almost every continent, deploying and providing continuous service to the networks they help customers to build.
Speaking about how they manage to work across dynamic markets, Eric shared, “It is our extensive engineering efforts that have put us at the forefront of Open RAN interoperability, we’ve been able to deliver not only products that are well-suited to very diverse markets and use-cases, but also a portfolio of hand-tailored solutions that address unique challenges in 5G networks. Naturally then, working across numerous types of networks and markets has been our clear direction forward, drawing on real experience from research through global implementation.”
Being an active member of the standards association, who drive this technology, Airspan gets a future look of what features are coming next. Apart from that, they attend many industry events and collaborate in panels to discuss the current market challenges. On the other side, the extended network of field experts from sales to engineers, work with customers to understand the challenges they are facing. With these sources, Airspan drafts a successful roadmap that targets products that can solve real market problems.
As a disruptor there are a lot of trial-and-error cycles that streamline the process of selection of products and services that best serve the market, adapting close customer service relationships into research and development potential. Airspan also creates annual targets for each product and service and track them. A flexible, market-tuned team can work with the targeting strategies and guide development from there.
Airspan is in a distinctive position as a US-based provider of end-to-end network solutions for 5G and can deliver both the hardware and software components of cutting-edge wireless, as well as the service. Airspan is among the few American firms that is well-equipped to deliver whole solutions to the RAN market. The technology is innovative, the scale is global and they have a number of syncretic business units, like FWA, to help reach where others can’t necessarily.
Speaking about the challenges they face in meeting dynamic market trends, Eric said, “The main challenge is to align expectations between the technology’s “hype” and the reality of what the ecosystem can bring today, tomorrow, and beyond. It’s important to sit with the customer and discuss what is feasible to do now and how to future-proof our products or services in the coming years adopting new features from the technology as it develops in this industry.”
5G is the first generation of cellular networks that not only targets public networks, but also brings features dedicated specifically for private networks. This opens a myriad of new opportunities to address, together with the support from governments worldwide providing dedicated frequencies for enterprises, like CBRS in the US, UK or Germany. Airspan have developed a series of products and services addressing new market opportunities including in the fixed wireless access market related to the new WiFi 6E spectrum.
As more and more networks are coming online, use cases continues to spring up across all levels of both the goods and services economy. Airspan has been leading the charge on 5G RAN hardware and software and has contributed to lay a strong foundation for the technology to mature and commercialize. With these considerations and an optimistic view of network adoption, Airspan expects an exciting next phase in this generation: upscaling. Eric adds, “a common mission and a shared vision has been our key. Even as technologies develop and markets shift over the years, we’ve been able to unify and develop behind certain key ideas. Once that’s in place, we can drive the business with all of its component parts working for each other.”
Keeping a close watch on market and valuing strong relationships with customers have had a big impact on their strategy. Shared fundamentals in protocols, systems and standards have led to a healthy competition ecosystem to develop newer and better ideas. With that, and a little luck, comes success, Eric believes.