Inland Cellular using OpenRAN in Idaho
Inland using Parallel Wireless RRHs connected to virtualized baseband running on Dell EMC servers
Open radio access network technologies, which disaggregate hardware from software potentially creating a cost benefit to operators, have been discussed as a potential solution for smaller U.S. operators looking to move away from network gear provided by Chinese vendor Huawei. While that is still an evolving conversation given federal funding for rip-and-replace and questions about feasibility, operator Inland Cellular is using OpenRAN as a replacement for Nokia and Ericsson gear.
Inland Cellular provides wireless services to more than 35,000 subscribers in north, central Idaho and southeastern Washington. The carrier is working with Parallel Wireless on its OpenRAN deployment which is based on technical work overseen by the Telecom Infra Project.
According to an interview with the Washington Post, Inland worked with Ericsson on its 3G network and with Nokia on its LTE network. Company EVP Chip Damato said its work with the two incumbent European vendors always ran into cost problems. “Anything you wanted to do was a huge financial hit on us,” he said in the piece by Jeanne Whalen. “Based on what we were doing, we couldn’t survive. …So we went out looking for alternatives.” Damato reckoned OpenRAN cuts per site cost by around 40% or approximately $20,000.
OpenRAN, at a high-level, is meant to let operators lower costs by creating a more competitive (and ideally innovative) vendor landscape. Japan’s Rakuten Mobile is the poster child for open, virtualized networks, RAN included, and is ramping to resell its network architecture to other operators, governments and vendors. OpenRAN vendors are also seeking U.S. investment in the technology to better compete against Huawei around the world. The current administration has taken aim at Huawei as part of a larger geopolitical and financial clash with China.
As Damato told the Washington Post, “We’re not going to be in the mix when it comes to any kind of regulatory issue or anything that happens at the government level. We’ve got to go out and be as resourceful as we can.”
A case study published by Intel sketches out the set up Inland has put together with Parallel Wireless. According to the case study, Parallel OpenRAN controller software running on a Dell EMC server stack (per the WaPo story), which use Intel’s Xeon D-2100 processors. Parallel’s software-defined remote radio head supports Inland’s 600 MHz spectrum and, along with the virtualized baseband, can upgraded from 4G to 5G.
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