DISH wireless tower

As Dish gets set to build a 5G network from scratch, the company apparently wants to be the first one that people think of when they hear the term “O-RAN.” The company said today that it will work with Qualcomm to test open and virtualized 5G RAN technology – the latest in a string of O-RAN announcements that Dish has made.

The idea behind O-RAN is to reduce the cost and enhance the flexibility of radio access networks by using an open standards-based approach. In theory, that makes a carrier’s network vendor agnostic, and opens the door to working with multiple vendors and so called ‘white box’ solutions.

Many carriers worldwide are testing the concept as they build out their 5G networks, and the O-RAN approach would seem to be a natural fit for Dish, which does not have pre-existing network infrastructure based on the traditional approach.

Dish already has announced numerous O-RAN vendors, including Altiostar, Fujistu, Mavenir, and Matrixx. Qualcomm could play a particularly important role as its deal with Dish involves Qualcomm semiconductor platforms that are expected to be used in O-RAN-compliant offerings from what a press release called “emerging” vendors.

The Dish Qualcomm deal calls for the two companies to work together to test such offerings, which could open the Dish 5G network to a range of new capabilities and spur competition among vendors.

In the press release, Dish Executive Vice President and Chief Network Officer Marc Rouanne noted that the agreement will “enable greater flexibility in the deployment of our 5G vRAN equipment” and “enrich a diverse ecosystem of RAN applications by delivering data insights natively through the future chipset family.”

Those insights, he said, will be “the foundation of our data-centric and fully-automated network architecture.”

Dish will not be alone in using products based on the Qualcomm 5G O-RAN platforms, however. In a recent announcement about those platforms, Qualcomm listed AT&T, Verizon and numerous carriers in other world regions as companies that it was working with on the platforms.

Some of these companies may not embrace O-RAN as wholeheartedly as Dish is doing, however. An AT&T executive said earlier this year that the company would be moving cautiously in adopting O-RAN until the technology’s ability to scale could be confirmed.

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