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Open RAN alone can’t beat Huawei’s 5G dominance, says Parallel Wireless

(Image credit: Parallel Wireless)

Altiostar and Mavenir recently announced a collaboration to deliver a new portfolio of radios based on OpenRAN principles for the US market. But Parallel Wireless, a fellow member of the Open RAN Policy Coalition, has said that Huawei’s dominance can’t be overcome until the industry addresses a single issue.

“We are excited to see this new partnership and its potential to create new radio variants for more of the US frequencies,” said Steve Papa, CEO Parallel Wireless. “Up until now there has been too much attention to things like virtualization. Open RAN is just an interface like any other that promotes interoperability across a wide ecosystem of vendors and protocols, but we are strong believers that ORAN will be only as good as the radios that are available.”

“Huawei has developed the most power-efficient radios because it’s been investing in gallium nitride semiconductor solutions much more than Ericsson, Nokia, and other independent radio vendors."

Steve Papa, Parallel Wireless.

However, in response to the news from Altiostar and Mavenir, Parallel Wireless says that until the industry can produce Massive MIMO active antennas to the high standards of Huawei, it will be in a constant game of catch-up. And the company says that Huawei’s dominance is largely down to its investment in a single area: gallium nitride semiconductors.

“These 5G active antennas (Massive MIMO) are where Huawei has their lead and developing this line of radios is not going to change that lead,” Papa explained. “Huawei has developed the most power-efficient radios because it’s been investing in gallium nitride semiconductor solutions much more than Ericsson, Nokia, and other independent radio vendors. 

“Energy efficiency is of paramount importance to operators, particularly in rural and 5G deployment because it impacts radio weight (heat dissipation) and radio size thus affecting everything from the cost of reinforcing towers with new steel, bigger copper cables to carry electricity, bigger backup batteries, bigger generators, fuel tanks and even the size of the crane required for installation.” 

Gallium nitride investment

“To become competitive with Huawei’s 5G, the place the industry needs to put the money is in the semiconductor innovation."

Steve Papa, Parallel Wireless.

And according to Parallel Wireless, once you move into more rural areas, the biggest challenge for operators is “future-proofing” their investments. In these circumstances, the company says, operators need to know that if they deploy ORAN, that as well as facing the largely 4G LTE issues of today, that they can also solve the high-end 5G massive MIMO problem, without the need for a tranche of new investment. 

“In order for operators to make big Open RAN investments they need confidence that Open RAN can solve their entire problem and it is critical Open RAN has an answer for 5G massive MIMO,” said Papa. “To become competitive with Huawei’s 5G, the place the industry needs to put the money is in the semiconductor innovation that enables Massive MIMO radios that are cost effective and more energy efficient than Huawei. 

“If Ericsson and Nokia are struggling to be competitive with Huawei’s radios we should not expect Open RAN to magically solve this problem by using the same semiconductors available to Ericsson and Nokia at present. Given the long lead times for semiconductor innovation it is imperative that it happens in 2020 if Open RAN is to deliver on a compelling alternative to Huawei within a few years,” Papa concluded.

Dan is a British journalist with 20 years of experience in the design and tech sectors, producing content for the likes of Microsoft, Adobe, Dell and The Sunday Times. In 2012 he helped launch the world's number one design blog, Creative Bloq. Dan is now editor-in-chief at 5Gradar, where he oversees news, insight and reviews, providing an invaluable resource for anyone looking to stay up-to-date with the key issues facing 5G.