‘5G was born in the cloud,’ says STL exec at MWC Barcelona

STL’s Access Solutions CEO discusses the ‘fundamental change’ taking place in telecom and what this change means for the company and the industry as a whole

At Mobile World Congress Barcelona, Chris Rice, the Access Solutions CEO at STL, spoke with RCR Wireless News about what Open RAN means for STL, and the telecommunications industry more broadly, as well as the work the company is doing with Meta Connectivity.

“5G really is the first G […] born in the cloud,” Rice stated, adding that with previous Gs, there was no cloud, no virtualization and no containerization. But now, he said, the industry is looking to “build differently,” and as a result, there is a “fundamental change” taking place with 5G.

“The ability to scale in, scale out, softwarization, virtualization, containerization, those are all things that were kind of born in the data center, but really now are affecting how people build mobile networks,” he said.

A big piece of this transformation is Open RAN, an initiative designed to establish a more disaggregated radio access network (RAN). The RAN market, Rice explained, has been dominated by a handful of major vendors that build to standards, but because their components are compatible with only those from the same company, carriers face vendor lock-in.

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“That can cause operational […] issues for carriers because let’s say I want to […] add a third party that is going to help me do self-organizing networks… Well, I typically have to get all of those folks whose infrastructure I’m using involved in that,” he continued. “And I really shouldn’t [have to] if it was based on open infrastructure, like computers are. I don’t have to get Intel involved every time I put in an Oracle database, right? So that’s really what you want to get to [with Open RAN].”

And for STL, this move towards a more open telecom ecosystem is crucial. “We can now be a part of an ecosystem that was like a certain club before, so it’s a big deal… It gives us an ability to participate in a market we wouldn’t be able to normally.”

In August 2021, STL partnered with Meta Connectivity — formally Facebook Connectivity — to design and develop 4G and 5G radio products as part of the Evenstar program to help accelerate the commercial deployment of Open RAN.

According to Rice, Meta Connectivity has long been interested in helping to develop more open networks and lowering the cost of network deployment and management, making the company a good match for STL and its own goals.

“[Meta’s] original […] goal was to connect the unconnected and […] grow the opportunities there,” he said, adding that now the company is focused on “jump starting” the metaverse ecosystem, which will aided significantly by the innovation and market competition provided by a more open and disaggregated RAN.  

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