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Clearwire mixes and matches 4G core

Specialty vendor WiChorus beats out 12 competitors to supply the central nervous system of the WiMax network

Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) is taking advantage of WiMax’s interchangeable modular architecture to snub its access vendors when it comes to the 4G packet core. Rather than go with the core architectures supplied by Motorola (NYSE:MOT), Samsung and Huawei , Clearwire has tapped new entrant WiChorus to provide the critical network control centers for its forthcoming WiMax deployments.

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WiChorus will deploy in Clearwire’s networks its SmartCore 4G packet core platform, a network-neutral solution designed for multiple 3G and 4G data architectures that, in the WiMax world, is traditionally known as the access service network (ASN) gateway. In WiMax’s flattened architecture, the ASN gateway functions as the first IP router data traffic from the mobile WiMax networks, but unlike the other IP routers in the network, the ASN contains all the functionality necessary for mobility. It terminates all mobile sessions, authenticates and tracks users and even handles security functions.

In the past, mobile infrastructure vendors have cemented their core elements to their radio access elements through proprietary interfaces, creating the end-to-end supply contracts common in 2G and 3G deployments. But with 4G comes a more open architecture, allowing carriers to select best-of-breed elements for each aspect of the network. That, in turn, has ushered in specialty core vendors such as Starent Networks (NASDAQ:STAR) and WiChorus, which can compete directly for carrier contracts rather than rely on partnerships with alternative vendors. One of the first announced long-term evolution (LTE) contracts also took advantage of new open interfaces—at least in part. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ, NYSE:VOD) did select its radio access vendors Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) for its LTE evolved packet core (EPC), but it also picked Starent’s next-generation ST40 platform.

“Fundamentally the companies who do the best packet cores are not the ones who do the best access equipment or the ones that make the best customer premise equipment,” said Rehan Jalil, president and CEO of the WiChorus. “Initially if big operators wanted to get the best value for the different elements of the network, they had to force the hand of their vendors. That is no longer the case. We’re able to integrate with every vendor’s base station.”

Clearwire has certainly taken advantage of WiMax’s open architecture to mix and match vendors as it has seen fit. Since Sprint (NYSE:S) merged its WiMax assets with Clearwire late last year, it has announced vendors from all over the map, including Ciena (NASDAQ:CIEN) for Ethernet backhaul, DragonWave (TSE:DWI) for backhaul radios and Mformation and Amdocs (NYSE:DOX) for device and customer relationship management. Clearwire has even traded out access vendors, eschewing the Nokia Siemens Networks (NYSE:NOK, NYSE:SI) relationship it inherited from Sprint in favor of a new contract with Huawei.

For WiChorus the deal is groundbreaking. The company is only three years old, and its first two years were spent entirely in R&D. The vendor brought its first product to market only a year ago, Jalil said. While WiChorus is in several 3G and 4G data trials with several operators around the world, Clearwire is its first commercial contract, Jalil said. And securing that contract was an arduous process, he added. Clearwire trialed 12 vendors' ASN gateways, including those of its access suppliers and of several specialty core vendors.  

At first Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) appeared to have the leg up. In May, Clearwire announced Cisco routers would form the IP backbone of its new network. Though the contract didn’t include the ASN gateway component, at the time departing Clearwire chief strategy officer Scott Richardson said Cisco would have a large role to play in Clearwire’s core network and hinted it might take over its ASN functions from Motorola and Samsung. Cisco’s 4G core solutions are built on its router product line, and it wouldn’t have taken much for Cisco to have reconfigured its 7600 series edge routers already sitting in the Clearwire network to function as ASN gateways.

“Imagine how easy it would have been to do that,” Jalil said. “There had to have been some compelling reasons Clearwire chose not to go that way. We feel our 4G core offers many of those compelling reasons.”

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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