One side effect of the move to cloud-native 5G for Dish is that it is helping the greenfield operator break the grip of the Scandinavian telco hardware mafia on 5G base station manufacturing.

The operator is building its own cloud-native open radio access network (O-RAN)-compliant base stations.

Silverlinings already reported about Dish hosting its 5G standalone (SA) core on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud and how that drastically improved the service provider’s 5G time-to-market. We thought we’d follow up once more with Dave Mayo, executive vice president of network development at Dish, about how building its own base stations is reducing the operator’s reliance on traditional telecom hardware vendors.

“One of the things we’re doing that’s somewhat unique is we build our own base stations,” Mayo told Silverlinings. He said that the Dish base station cabinet manufacturing facility is in Spartanburg, SC (This. Is. SPARTAnburg!). The factory site was previously used to refurbish set-top boxes.

“We’ve got Dell servers in our cabinets,” Mayo said. “That’s the processing unit in the base station. It’s open, off-the-shelf Dell stuff. It’s not like some specially manufactured baseband unit that we throw in the cabinet. We just buy a standard SKU Dell server.”

“Nobody else in the U.S. is actually doing that,” he said. ”If I think back to my past life, when I was buying a base station, it would come in a nice tidy little crate that got shipped from Helsinki or Stockholm.”

Rakuten Mobile, however, is moving in the same direction in Japan. The operator bought startup Altiostar in the summer of 2021 to help grow its own virtualized Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP). In fact, Dish will use Rakuten Symphony’s observability framework (OBF)  to enable the use of AI as part of the Dish 5G network.

O-RAN ambitions

Mayo added that Dish’s use of an O-RAN infrastructure “is going to give us a much greater opportunity to control our spectrum.” 

He said that he had been disappointed in the past on his annual pilgrimages to Scandinavia “to try and get more spectral enhancement features, and always falling somewhat short of expectations.”

Dish has already signed up Mavenir and Samsung to provide O-RAN code to run over the Dell servers for its greenfield cloud-native 5G deployment. “They’ll both be O-RAN vendors for us in the software space,” Mayo said.

Dish currently has the most extensive O-RAN network deployed in the U.S., according to Senza Fili. Despite the debate that started in 2016 about operators using O-RAN to break open the base station vendor lockdown, early adopters in 2023 are only now beginning to embrace the move to open interfaces and non-proprietary components for base stations, according to  Dell’Oro Group.

The analyst firm predicts that O-RAN is now expected to comprise 10% to 15% of the entire RAN market by 2027.

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