Can Open RAN deliver?

  • Open RAN is gaining traction with mobile network operators
  • But the industry seems split about its value
  • TelecomTV is taking the temperature of telco views on the alternative RAN architecture

Open RAN is a divisive topic in the telecom sector, regarded either as the natural and useful evolution of the radio access network in a software-based, cloud-oriented era or a pointless folly that isn’t worth the bother. But what does the mobile operator community actually think about Open RAN?

That’s the question TelecomTV is putting to the telco community in our Open RAN Perception Survey, which aims to find out whether network operators believe Open RAN is a positive industry development and whether it can help to expand the vendor ecosystem and deliver other benefits. The survey is open only to those who work for network operators and takes just three minutes to complete: The results will be published in our next DSP Leaders Report publication.

Clearly there are those who believe Open RAN is the way to go: At the recent MWC24 event in Barcelona, senior executives from AT&T, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone, along with the executive director of the Telecom Infra project (TIP), discussed the importance of Open RAN technology certification to their testing and deployment plans during a panel session hosted on the Deutsche Telekom stand. Each of those telcos is at a different stage of their Open RAN rollouts but they all see the benefit of deploying radio access network technology with open interfaces that enable best-of-breed multivendor solutions (though whether they decide to source their technology from multiple suppliers is another matter). 

One of the drivers behind their support for Open RAN is the desire to have a broader ecosystem of technology suppliers beyond the current major suppliers, particularly in markets where Huawei is either already banned or set to be sidelined, leaving operators with an effective duopoly of Ericsson and Nokia from which to source traditional integrated RAN systems. And for the members of our DSP Leaders Council, at least, expanding the vendor ecosystem is important to the future needs of network operators – see Telcos need more vendors to meet their needs – report.

For some operators, avoiding vendor lock-in is a strong driver to embracing Open RAN. But it’s not for all, it seems: In a brief conversation with Scott Petty, CTO at Vodafone Group (one of Open RAN’s main telco flag-wavers), he noted that some operators believe they can play the two European vendors against each other and that having two strong traditional RAN suppliers is enough to meet their needs and their budgets. Vodafone is in the camp that certainly wants more than two strong suppliers in its markets and it’s notable that Samsung is playing a key role in the operator’s European Open RAN plans to date. 

The debate about the value and worthiness of Open RAN to network operators isn’t set to abate any time soon, but we’re keen to find out what network operators are thinking right now. If you work at a network operator, please take a few minutes to complete our survey and (anonymously, of course) share your perception of Open RAN. 

For the latest Open RAN developments and insights, check out TelecomTV’s Open RAN channel.

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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