Matt Vartabedian
Analyst
IGR

If Prime: 5G Core by Thursday, RAN by Saturday

April 22, 2021

Remember the Rokr E1? It debuted about 16 years ago and resulted from a partnership between Motorola and Apple. Back then, Motorola was a big deal in phones – along with Palm, RIM (which is BlackBerry, btw) and Nokia. The Rokr E1 failed, largely due to the lack of letters.

I remember thinking it odd that Motorola and Apple partnered particularly since the Rokr E1 was so bad. Thanks to hindsight, I must also have thought “Maybe Apple’s learning what goes into making the cellular components of a phone.” Eighteen months later, Apple disrupted the cellular and computing industries.

Which brings me to this news. A month ago, Nokia and Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced a collaboration in which “engineering teams from both companies will research how the combination of Nokia’s RAN (Radio Access Network), Open RAN, Cloud RAN and edge solutions can operate seamlessly with AWS Outposts.”

Per the press release, the project will run Nokia’s 5G virtualized distributed unit (vDU) and 5G virtualized centralized unit (vCU) on AWS Outposts using Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) for far edge cloud or on-premises deployments. (Kubernetes is a container management platform.)

In 5G New Radio (NR), baseband processing is split between the DU and the CU. The goal there is to put those processing elements in physical locations where it makes the most sense (costs the least and/or provides the greatest functionality). This functionality is likely to be virtualized as well, but what the radios do is not changing that much.

The third part of the collaboration will build a “proof of concept for an end-to-end solution with Nokia’s 5G Cloud RAN and 5G standalone Core network running on AWS, where end enterprise users can leverage 5G for use cases such as an industrial application.”

Undeniably, Nokia has thirty plus years of cellular radio expertise which I would guess must transfer into its virtualization efforts. And it has a large existing market that is under threat thanks in no small part to the very mobile operators it sells to.

Ostensibly, a 5G RAN service (CU/DU) is another way for AWS to position itself as an enabler of 5G services. Already, they have outposts, wavelength zones, local zones, snow-family devices, a partnership with Athonet for 4G/5G core, and one with Federated Wireless for connectivity-as-a-service (which Federated does not directly have since they only run a SAS).

Will AWS launch 5G NR RAN-based service? Who knows. All I’m suggesting is that AWS with all the resources at its disposal, is more than capable of disrupting the cellular market. Yesterday’s news is a good example – Dish is using AWS to build its 5G network.