Dish Network’s 5G launch may be just around the corner, but it appears the operator is still testing key pieces of technology for its forthcoming greenfield open RAN network. In an announcement made at MWC Barcelona, Dish said it is trialling VMware’s RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC).

The RIC is an important part of open RAN architecture, serving as the software platform responsible for controlling baseband functions and enabling the deployment of third-party RAN applications known as xApps and rApps to optimize operations. A VMware representative told Fierce a RIC is not required to launch an open RAN network, but said without one an operator would be “limited by the basic intelligence capabilities of their RAN platform vendor.”

Dish said its trial will assess how well VMware’s RIC can enable the creation of custom solutions from different xApp and rApp vendors; deliver increased intelligence to automate network optimizations; and boost network security.

Marc Rouanne, Dish EVP and chief network officer, in a statement reiterated the operator’s plan to use network slicing, open RAN and “other 5G innovations” – presumably including the RIC – to offer customized network services. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all experience,” he said. “It can be customizable, by speed, latency, data requirements – all defined by the customer.”

The announcement comes as Dish barrels toward a June deadline imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for its network buildout. Per the agency’s requirements, Dish must cover 20% of the U.S. population with 5G by that time.

During a recent earnings call, Dish executives said the operator is preparing to turn up service in 25 major cities and 100 smaller markets ahead of its deadline.

The VMware representative said from a technical perspective a RIC can be onboarded and deployed in a matter of minutes since it’s a cloud network function. However, additional time is needed to expose the RIC to APIs from different apps so it can begin processing data from them. Thus, “time to deployment varies greatly depending on the specific use case,” the representative said.

VMware’s RIC strategy

Dish’s relationship with VMware dates back to July 2020, when the operator announced plans to use the vendor’s telco cloud platform in its 5G network. VMware subsequently unveiled its RIC in October 2021.

Stephen Spellicy, VMware VP of product marketing and solutions for Telco and Edge Cloud, told journalists during a briefing last week the RIC has primarily been designed to support open RAN use cases including spectral multiplication, extending the scheduler to the cloud, traffic shaping solutions and other monetization opportunities that come from the RAN.

But he added VMware is also aiming to make the RIC a tool for legacy customers as well. Spellicy explained “Not every operator is going to have open RAN out of the chute. Some of our top customers are exploring and starting to implement, but many will have legacy architectures, even 4G, and seek the same kinds of opportunities. So, our RIC infrastructure, our product design and out product strategy is not only just to address the future, but also to tack on some of the past use cases and improve as well.”

According to the VMware representative, there are “several” operators trialling its RIC, but only Vodafone and Bharti Airtel have made that work public.

Private wireless

In addition to its RIC announcement with Dish, VMware also unveiled a pair of private wireless moves. First, it took the wraps off a new Private 5G solution, with a design that was validated alongside ASOCS and Druid. The setup includes ASOCS CYRUS RAN, Druid’s Rarmis Core and VMware’s Edge Compute Stack.

Its second announcement focused on a 5G enterprise solution it launched alongside STL and ASOCS, using STL’s Garuda small cell.

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