Open RAN radio unit market to be worth $47+ billion by 2026: Report

Ray Le Maistre
By Ray Le Maistre

Oct 8, 2020

  • ABI Research team sees accelerated growth for Open RAN-enabled gear
  • Trade wars and global pandemic are catalysts for shifts in procurement strategies 
  • Predicts value of public outdoor radio unit sales in 2026 at more than $40 billion
  • Enterprise market smaller but still sizeable at $6.7 billion in same year

The market for Open RAN-enabled radio units is set to be worth more than $47 billion by 2026, according to the analyst team at ABI Research, which believes network operator investments in Open RAN gear will exceed those spent on traditional cellular network equipment in 2027-2028.

According to the research firm, capex spent on Open RAN radio units (RUs) for public outdoor networks (including macro and small cell deployments) will hit $40.7 billion in 2026, while the expected spend on indoor enterprise units in that same year is $6.7 billion.

“Trade wars and the global pandemic of COVID-19 have resulted in tremendous restrictions on the telecom supply chain and disrupt the evolution of new technologies. These effects will accelerate the development of Open RAN and open networks,” states Jiancao Hou, Senior Analyst at ABI Research, in a press release about the company’s forecasts.

“ABI Research expects greenfield installations, as well as private enterprise networks and public consumer networks, in rural/uncovered areas to drive the deployment of Open RAN throughout the entire forecast period,” adds Hou. The biggest existing/planned greenfield Open RAN deployments currently are Rakuten Mobile’s 5G network in Japan and the Dish Networks rollout in the US.

The analyst also expects the cellular infrastructure market’s major vendors to react to the competition coming from the likes of Mavenir, NEC, Fujitsu and more. “ABI Research sees new entrants will lead the early deployment for Open RAN, but they will be increasingly challenged by tier-one vendors and system integrators for both public cellular implementations and enterprise deployment,” states Hou.

Open RAN radio units were in the spotlight this week as Vodafone announced the results of an RFI that identified China’s NTS, Hong Kong’s Comba Telecom and US vendor Mavenir (which has just filed for an IPO) as the frontrunners in the market – none of the ‘tier one’ vendors featured, though Nokia is vocal and active in the Open RAN market and Ericsson has suggested it will get involved in the future. Huawei has expressed only negative views about Open RAN developments. 

And there has has been a significant uptick in support of Open RAN by the operator community in recent months, with multiple Tier 1 operators pledging deployments in the coming years and tests and trials underway across the globe, as the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) team pointed out earlier this week

Other research houses are less bullish about the value of the Open RAN market, though: Dell’Oro, for example, is expecting Open RAN equipment sales to total more than $5 billion during the next five years, though it’s likely that this forecast will be revised upwards too as operators become more bullish and deployment plans progress. However, even given the different timeframes, there’s still a large gap between the expectation of these two respected industry research houses, which reflects the ongoing uncertainty as to just how exactly this market might play out.

Of course for the likes of NTS, Comba, Mavenir and the other players in the Open RAN radio unit market, the hope will be that ABI’s expectations are the more accurate.

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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