Former Ericsson CTO joins Tarana Wireless board

Small cell backhaul start-up gains new firepower as it prepares for role in pre-5G fixed wireless trials

It’s been a long journey for the host of start-ups which eagerly converged on the small cell backhaul opportunity five or more years ago. Those which survived the slower than expected roll-out of outdoor small cells are now looking at a belated, but real, windfall as operators pursue densification programs, putting real pressure on authorities to ease siting and other obstacles to deployment. And of course, many of the early pre-5G trials are focusing on high frequency bands, and so of necessity on small cells.

One of the start-ups which devised wireless backhaul solutions for small base stations deployed close to the floor and the radio ‘clutter’ was Tarana Wireless, which has now gained a partnership with Nokia, a trial with AT&T, and a new board director – former Ericsson CTO Jan Uddenfeldt.

Such comments highlight the fact that fixed wireless is having a moment – another one, after previous bubbles like that in LMDS services at the turn of the century. Now those LMDS airwaves are valuable again as operators aim to combine them with more efficient 5G radios to support a true alternative to fiber. With 3G, WiMAX and LTE, there were always promises of a lower cost, more flexible option for companies which lacked fiber, but really the wireless system was definitely a poor relation. Now trials of high capacity pre-5G links in high frequency bands such as the US’s 26/28 GHz, by Verizon, AT&T, Google and others, aim to ascertain that cellular really can deliver ‘wireless fiber’ for small cell access and backhaul, and for broadband to the home.

Tarana CEO Steve Sifferman said: “We have been working closely with tier 1 customers since our inception in 2011 to understand and address their real world requirements for the next generation of networks, leveraging an approach to multi-radio systems we knew would make very large and practical performance gains possible. The results have exceeded all expectations.”

Last year, AT&T – which, along with Deutsche Telekom, is an investor in Tarana – applied for an FCC experimental license to test Tarana’s antennas – its AbsoluteAir2 CN1 and CN6 concentrator nodes with two edge-node radio models in the 3.5 GHz band, newly opened up for mobile broadband usage.

Tarana says it is now hiring more sales and engineering employees to support “multiple tier 1 customer contracts for large scale deployments”, promising that its small cells can “cut 80% of the capex out of your gigabit access upgrade strategy”. It has also carried out a trial in New York City with an unnamed operator.

Its most important partnership is with Nokia, which includes Tarana backhaul in its FlexiZone small cell deployment portfolio, which includes the new HetNet Engine Room service, using 3D street maps to calculate a specific location’s return on investment.

Tarana was founded in 2009 by a team of engineers from the University of California, Berkeley, and in 2013 claimed it had designed the world’s first universal small cell backhaul solution, suitable for any location.

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