Huawei denies Open RAN support speculation

  • Huawei has never had much time for Open RAN
  • Yet with growing industry support for the technology, including in Vodafone’s giant RAN request for quotation (RFQ) process, speculation swirled around the #MWC24 show floor that Huawei was joining the Open RAN gang
  • But the Chinese vendor says there’s no specific plan to support Open RAN right now  

BARCELONA – MWC24 – Huawei has responded to speculation on the MWC24 show floor that it is about to announce support in its portfolio for Open RAN specifications by stating it currently has “no specific plan in place regarding Open RAN.”

Rumours that an Open RAN announcement from Huawei was imminent started to swirl around the halls of the Fira on Thursday morning, as discussions continued at the event about the growing operator support for the disaggregated multivendor RAN architecture. 

One senior industry executive said he had been waiting all week for an Open RAN announcement at this year’s MWC from giant Chinese vendor Huawei, which has long dismissed the need to support such specifications in its products. It has always claimed there was no business need for it to do so, particularly in its domestic market where the three major operators have not embraced disaggregated, open systems and which, in 2022, accounted for 63% of the vendor’s sales, driven by investments in 5G and fibre access networks.

But while there’s still no appetite for Open RAN (which enables RAN elements from best-of-breed vendors to be stitched together) in China, the alternative approach is starting to gain traction elsewhere and an increasing number of network operator RAN procurement processes are expected to demand support for Open RAN in the coming years.

According to that executive, the main catalyst for Huawei’s rumoured change of heart is the major RAN request for quotation (RFQ) process that is underway at Vodafone Group – it covers all of the operator’s 170,000 mobile sites and has Open RAN at the heart of its technical requirements. 

Vodafone is a long-time RAN equipment customer of Huawei, mostly, but not exclusively, in African markets and increasingly less so in Europe, where Vodafone is replacing Huawei RAN technology in markets such as the UK and Romania with Open RAN systems from other vendors – see Vodafone preps extensive Open RAN rollout in Romania.

The operator’s RFQ is not exclusively for Open RAN systems but it does account for a significant chunk of it and vendors that can’t meet all of Vodafone’s RFQ requirements will be marked down in the process.

Huawei’s major RAN rivals – Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung – already support many (if not necessarily all) Open RAN specifications in their product lines and are, therefore, set to score more highly in the process. 

But Huawei appears to be happy to compete just for the non-Open RAN part of Vodafone’s upcoming RAN refresh, despite the nature of Vodafone’s RFQ and the fact that the Chinese vendor would be disqualified from the Open RAN part of the process and score lower than its rivals in the overall process as it would not meet the network operator’s open fronthaul requirements.

Another senior industry executive who spoke to TelecomTV on background noted that Huawei has a very set path for its RAN portfolio evolution and noted that Huawei is not likely to proclaim its support for Open RAN until the specifications are integrated into formal industry standards, something that is years away from happening.  

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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