On Monday, satellite network provider DISH and chipmaker Intel announced that Intel 5G’s infrastructure technology will be integrated into DISH’s buildout of the U.S.’s first virtualized, Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) 5G network deployment.

In September, Japanese e-commerce and telecom giant Rakuten rolled out the world’s first greenfield 5G network built using modular O-RAN technology. O-RAN networks are built to be carrier-agnostic: in other words, standardized (not unlike Lego bricks), and able to operate with equipment from any carrier.

To date, cellular service provided on “closed-RAN” networks has meant that carriers could only use equipment from specific producers, bolstering the dominance of a tiny number of network equipment makers, among them Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. Huawei’s swift (and, by many accounts, problematic) rise brought about a rapid escalation in geopolitical tensions tied to the highly concentrated global telecom equipment market.

Under the new partnership, DISH will be using the Intel Xeon Scalable Processor, the Intel Ethernet 800 Series network adapter, the Intel vRAN Dedicated Accelerator ACC100 and Intel’s FlexRAN software reference architecture for its 5G deployments.

Multiple contractual vendor relationships—as Rakuten has demonstrated to great effect—have proven critical to the Open-RAN 5G buildout approach. With a greenfield 5G network that is being architected from the ground up, DISH is, likewise, working with several U.S.-based vendors to combine cloud and connectivity technology to power next-generation services and enterprise use cases.

But the relationship with Intel appears to be a more strategic one. As the world’s leading network silicon provider, Intel will brings its full suite of silicon, software and tools to transform the DISH 5G network with software-based, agile and scalable infrastructure.

Server economics

“Intel has been a trusted advisor throughout the design of our O-RAN network, working in concert with our software vendors Mavenir, Altiostar, and many OEM hardware providers. We have tested several commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) designs from a large number of server vendors using Intel’s O-RAN compliant FlexRAN architecture and are pleased by the maturity and power of the solutions, together with the cost benefits of COTS solutions,” said DISH Executive Vice President and Chief Network Officer Marc Rouanne.

“Fully-virtualized, cloud-native networks like the one DISH is building bring the same server economics that transformed the data center,” said Dan Rodriguez, Intel corporate vice president and general manager of the Network Platforms Group. “We are excited to partner with DISH to lay the foundation for a truly agile network and have already begun working with our OEM partners who have designed FlexRAN-based servers to enable a variety of new innovative use cases and services.”

DISH and Intel are working together on a fully virtualized RAN, including radio reference designs, front-haul optimization, hardware-based security, and blueprints for servers. The two companies are also collaborating to enable edge applications for enterprises and driving O-RAN standards. Future phases of the buildout will include data optimization and Machine Learning, and DISH and Intel are already working together in those areas.

Late last week, DISH announced that it would partner with DigitalRoute’s cloud-native Usage Data Platform for the monetization of its 5G services, and to build out a 5G marketplace for enterprise customers.

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