- AT&T has always been a vocal supporter of Open RAN
- Now it is putting its money where its mouth is
- The giant US telco is set to invest $14bn over five years in 5G Open RAN deployments
- Ericsson will be the lead vendor and that spells bad news for Nokia
Just when it looked like the Open RAN pulse was weakening, AT&T has pumped new life into the disaggregated, multivendor radio access network (RAN) sector with a five-year, $14bn plan to build out the next phase of its 5G network using the next-generation architecture, with Ericsson as its lead vendor partner for the new deployment programme.
The Swedish vendor will be the lead contractor, but as Open RAN is, by its very nature, a multivendor approach to network rollouts, other technology suppliers will be involved in the deployments, including Fujitsu, Dell Technologies, Intel and Corning. However, AT&T has not namechecked Nokia as part of its plans (more on this below).
The operator says it expects to have “fully integrated Open RAN sites operating in coordination with Ericsson and Fujitsu, starting in 2024” and that it will then ramp up its Open RAN deployments from 2025 using technology from multiple suppliers, stressing that the “move away from closed proprietary interfaces will enable rapid scaling and management of mixed supplier hardware at each cell site.”
By late 2026, AT&T expects 70% of its wireless network traffic to flow across open-capable platforms. “AT&T is taking the lead in open platform sourcing in our wireless network,” stated AT&T Network executive VP Chris Sambar. “With this collaboration, we will open up radio access networks, drive innovation, spur competition and connect more Americans with 5G and fibre. We are pleased that Ericsson shares our support for Open RAN and the possibilities this creates for American digital infrastructure,” added Sambar.
The announcement is a massive win for Ericsson, which recently pinned its flag firmly (and somewhat controversially) to the Open RAN mast and which already provides AT&T with about half of its radio access network technology – this deal means it will be the dominant RAN vendor at AT&T.
Ericsson’s stock gained 4.6% on the Nasdaq during Monday trading to $5.25 as speculation mounted that the Swedish vendor was set to capitalise at the expense of key rival Nokia and once news of the Open RAN deal broke after the markets had closed late on Monday, Ericsson’s share price gained a further 8.2% in after-hours trading to hit $5.68, its highest value since April.
The AT&T news is also a very large feather in Fujitsu’s Open RAN cap, as well as being a significant boost for the Open RAN sector, even though the primary vendor is a traditional legacy technology supplier.
But it is very bad news for AT&T’s other current major RAN supplier, Nokia, which looks to be the big loser in this equation. For more on AT&T’s latest move, see this press release.
The Open RAN announcement from AT&T and Ericsson came only a few days after Earl Lum, president at EJL Wireless Research, published a LinkedIn post highlighting industry speculation that Nokia was set to be dropped from AT&T’s future RAN plans.
He wrote: “Various sources we have spoken to imply that AT&T is the next wireless operator customer to remove Nokia from their RAN vendor list. Since AT&T Wireless’ other RAN vendor is Ericsson, this would imply either another RAN vendor to replace Nokia OR Ericsson wins 100% of the entire AT&T wireless RAN network.”
Nokia, which is believed to currently account for about a third of AT&T’s current 5G RAN deployments, was replaced in Verizon’s RAN by Samsung Networks in 2020 and now looks to be on its way out of AT&T’s 5G network: That’s a massive blow for the Finnish vendor, which saw its share price slump by 9.5% on the Nasdaq exchange during Monday trading to $3.16 and then lose a further 10% of its value in after-hours trading to hit $2.83.
- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV
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