- One of the key things about 5G was that it was to be ‘open’
- There is a major standardisation effort now under way to make that happen
- But there are obstacles
Open RANs are more than just a ‘nice to have’, they’re pivotal if Mobile CSPs are to be able to chase down deployment costs. And the importance of grinding those costs down can’t be under-estimated.
Given the general state of the market and uncertainty around just how quickly 5G can make its mark, success on cost lowering could mean the difference between sustained 5G deployment and financial success on the one hand, and stuttering roll-out and general operator torpor and disenchantment on the other.
Rethink Research has long been making a compelling case for the open RAN and has just released a report on open RAN progress, authored by Rethink Research co-founder and Research Director, Caroline Gabriel.
She points out that the current urging toward RAN openness and standardisation is just the time-honoured track that most IT segments tend to follow as the buyers (in this case mobile operators) recoil from the lock-in and spiralling costs involved in buying proprietary technology and start insisting on vendors ditching product differentiation in favour of bullet-proof interoperability.
Once important horizontal segments of the RAN are defined and standardised and purchasing decisions are made accordingly, then the price-cutting fun can begin since operators will, theoretically at least, be able to chop and change suppliers, not just across the board as now (which makes such an exercise almost impossible), but for specific bits of the RAN.
But, as the report points out, there are a number of problems standing in the way.
First there are still a range of openness approaches. Just tap “open RAN” into our search engine to get a feel of the diversity, although Caroline points out that there is also a coming together of the different Open RAN efforts which should smooth the way... eventually.
She expects that the drive to the open RAN will come first from “new classes of operators and vendors, addressing under-served areas including the indoor enterprise and industrial IoT.”
Greenfield initiatives will be able to build a more “Wi-Fi-like” ecosystem based on open specifications.
But the main driver for openness is certainly costs and these will diminish over time rather than arrive in a big bang soon after open standards for say, fronthaul, are set. The report calculates that the deployment cost of a 5G macro cell will fall by 50 per cent between now and 2022 if built on an open architecture, whereas operators will only stand to save 30 per cent if they procure and build in the traditional way.
Openness is not just a cost thing, or course. Greater flexibility in procurement should mean that important bits of a 5G RAN could be ripped and replaced - perhaps to support a specific application set in a particular geographic area.
The ability to do this, by the way, might be a useful foil to alleviate the ‘risk’ apparently presented by Huawei if it’s to be allowed to participate in the UK’s 5G roll-out. Having a completely open and interoperable RAN involving multiple suppliers means proven back doors in, say, an antenna deployment means it can be replaced by another vendor.
To see the report’s executive summary, click here
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