Is Cohere targeting Open RAN to promote OTFS and USM for 6G?

Might is right! Many smaller players in the mobile telecom industry has learned this the hard way over the years. There are instances where particular channels and waveforms were rejected because only some smaller players had the IPR. There have also been instances where adopting a particular technology might have caused a huge disruption and positive innovation but was discarded in favour of small (changes) is beautiful.

Cohere Technologies' is one such small player that is pitching its Orthogonal Time Frequency Space (OTFS), an alternative to the Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) found in today's 4G and 5G networks, as a candidate for the upcoming 6G standard.

At MWC 23, Ray Dolan, chairman and CEO of Cohere discussed the potential impact of Cohere Technologies' advancements in wireless technology on the mobile industry, specifically in the development of 6G networks. According to him, Cohere's OTFS modulation technology allows for more efficient use of available wireless spectrum and improves wireless connectivity in challenging environments, such as high-speed travel.

The complete session from MWC is available here, including the slides. The video below is the talk and panel discussion with Ray Dolan.

Light Reading had another article on Cohere which was published before MWC and detailed what the talk might contain. The following is from the article:

The vision of a 6G-standardized OTFS integral to future military systems will alarm any US official concerned about China's role in global standards bodies. But the immediate obstacle for Cohere is likelier to be vested commercial interests – entities that have profited from OFDM's importance to mobile standards and that fear an OTFS challenge. This said, if it were solely about "hypersonic" connectivity, OTFS would be targeting a relatively small part of the 6G market, and Ronny Haraldsvik, Cohere's senior vice president of business development, insists the goal is not to replace OFDM. "We know we can have the existence of two waveforms without penalizing performance."

Hypersonic, however, is not the full OTFS story. Running mobile network functions from the cloud might be easier with OTFS than it is with OFDM because the former can better "live with latency," in Haraldsvik's words. In this scenario, site equipment becomes dumber as network intelligence moves to servers in more centralized facilities. This would obviously suit the likes of AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure as they pitch for telco business. Vendors in the traditional basestation market are unlikely to be quite so enthusiastic.

They are probably not thrilled by Cohere's other products, either. Chief among them is the universal spectrum multiplier (USM), a software-based system designed to boost performance on the radios telcos have already deployed. No big kit vendor is likely to welcome third-party software that prolongs the lifetime of older equipment and hinders sales of new, antenna-rich gear. Unsurprisingly, then, Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia, the dominant players in this market, have not made room for the USM.

This is an obvious problem for Cohere, Haraldsvik concedes. Its remedy is twofold. First, it is appealing directly to network operators lured by the service benefits and economic attractions of its technology. Its investors now include the venture-capital arms of two operators – Bell Canada and Australia's Telstra – and it has been tested or trialed by several telcos. Ignoring the demands of customers impressed with Cohere will be much harder for Ericsson and company than simply ignoring Cohere.

Separately, Cohere is backing open RAN, a set of interfaces for slotting together products from different suppliers, rather than buying the whole enchilada from one big vendor. Open RAN specialists trying to crack the oligopolistic sector may have nothing to lose and plenty to gain from a Cohere tie-up. While it has yet to announce any such partnerships with RAN software developers, Haraldsvik's message is to watch this space.

Open RAN might help Cohere technically, as well. Rather than being integrated with a RAN partner's products, Cohere's software could sit on a platform called the RAN intelligent controller (or RIC), a concept born of the open RAN community. Two flavors of RIC are available – near-real time (with xApps) and non-real time (with rApps). Having previously seemed to focus on xApps, Cohere now says it can support either. If there are no service drawbacks, that should extend its market reach.

Cohere's latest innovation, announced this week, is a tool called dynamic network alignment (snappily shortened to DNA). It is described by Haraldsvik as an autoconfiguration tool, intended to work alongside the USM, and was conceived following USM trials with an undisclosed telco. As Cohere quickly discovered, operators might be using numerous antenna configurations in the field, where conditions can rapidly change from one moment to the next. Weather fronts, highway traffic and even the appearance of a new billboard can all cause disruption, according to Haraldsvik. "We discovered we had to do something that auto-calibrated," he said. "You can see things have changed and then fine tune."

The industry is still waiting for Cohere to make its breakthrough after several years of talk about the USM product. A major deal with a telco today would require established kit vendors to budge. Greenfield work involving smaller suppliers seems likelier for now. But 6G is slowly drawing closer, and telcos aren't getting any richer. Odd as it sounds, that might just suit Cohere.

I am sure we will hear lot more about Cohere, OTFS and USM in the coming years.

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