Qualcomm finalizes Cellwize deal, in pursuit of 5G RAN improvements

RAN automation technology is the target as Qualcomm looks to buttress its 5G operator business.

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Wireless equipment manufacturer Qualcomm Monday announced that it had finalized a deal to acquire Israel-based Cellwize, a maker of radio access network (RAN) management technology that uses AI-based automation to streamline the deployment of 5G infrastructure.

In particular, the company's offerings aim to simplify the process of designing and deploying 5G networks for both mobile operators and enterprises looking to set up private 5G networks of their own, by automating the deployment of access points, simplifying site deployments, and more.

Terms of the acquisition were not officially disclosed, though Israeli financial news site CTech reported the deal value to be $300 million. 

The big win for Qualcomm here is the acquisition of  RAN intelligent controller technology from Cellwize, according to Bill Ray, vice president and analyst at Gartner Research. The RIC, as it's sometimes known, will let Qualcomm bake the ability to adjust radio networks on the fly—in a programmatic manner—into its hardware.

"That's the thing that's going to be really important over the next five to 10 years," Ray said. "We can't just exploit more radio frequency, we need to be more flexible. [Millimeter-wave] is sort of a dead-end, so we need real-time adjustment of the radio signal."

Vendors in both the enterprise and operator sectors trumpeted the deal in Qualcomm's official announcement, saying that it offers potent new capabilities for network deployment.

Automated RAN optimization is key for telcos

Ed Chan, CTO of Verizon, said that the new features provided by Cellwize's technology make his company's work in rolling out 5G that much simpler. "RAN optimization through automation is key in achieving [our] vision," Chaen said, in the announcment.

Similarly, HPE communications technology group vice president of product management Domenico Convertino said that his company has already been working with both Qualcomm and Cellwize, and praised the new synergies liklely to take shape with the deal.

Gartner's Ray noted that the deal is, in part, a response to the changing nature of licensed network deployment, particularly in the US. Where there used to be just a scattering of national and regional carrier networks, 5G has seen private networks take off in a big way, with private networks already outnumbering public ones.

"Network design is complex," he said. "Because we have all these private networks now coming online, we're going to have more networks designed by less-skilled people."

Hence, any automation technology that assists in network design is likely to prove useful, even if the companies deploying private 5G networks aren't the ones directly using that technology.

"The customers for this technology may not be the company deploying the network, it might be their system integrator or something like that," he said. It's a big value-add for Qualcomm to be able to sell directly to those integrators and offer sophisticated design and deployment assistance tools.

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