GSMA, O-RAN team to open up 5G networks

Collaboration aims to accelerate an ‘industry-wide consensus’ on the adoption of open, interoperable interfaces and radio access network virtualisation

Mobile operators’ trade association the GSMA has announced it is to work with the O-RAN Alliance to accelerate the adoption of open radio access network (RAN) products and systems that take advantage of new open virtualised architectures, software and hardware.

O-RAN is an open and software-defined network technology that its proponents believe has the potential to enable operators to broaden their number of network infrastructure partners and facilitate a better and more cost-effective 5G network service for customers. By disaggregating hardware and software components and leveraging open interfaces, O-RAN technology, says the alliance, has the potential to enrich the mobile ecosystem with new solutions and business models, and an expanded multi-supplier ecosystem.

Such capability is seen as particularly useful for coverage in hard-to-reach rural locations, such as an area with a very small population, or where a sharing model is more cost-effective, such as dense urban locations where large numbers of small cells are required. Also, cost-optimised O-RAN technology is said to allow greater capacity and simpler configuration, which could benefit users.

In this latest development to boost the standard, the GSMA and O-RAN have said they will work to harmonise the open networking ecosystem and agree on an industry roadmap for network solutions, with the aims of making access networks as open and flexible as possible for new 5G market entrants. 

They added that mobile operators are re-evaluating the way their networks are deployed. New virtualised architectures with open interfaces can drive cost efficiencies and allow operators to accelerate the deployment of 5G networks.

Also, open interfaces can help diversify and reinvigorate the supply chain, promoting competition and innovation – for example, by building and operating a RAN infrastructure based on mix-and-match components from different suppliers, they said.

In its recent Mobile economy report, the GSMA predicted that operators will invest more than a trillion dollars globally over the next five years to serve both consumer and enterprise customers, 80% of which will be on 5G networks.

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“When 5G reaches its potential, it will become the first generation of mobile networks to have a bigger impact on enterprises than consumers,” said Alex Sinclair, chief technology officer at the GSMA. “In the enterprise sector alone, we forecast $700bn worth of economic value to be created by the 5G opportunity. The growth of the open networking ecosystem will be essential to meeting enterprise coverage and services needs in the 5G era.”

Andre Fuetsch, chairman of the O-RAN Alliance, and executive vice-president and chief technology officer of AT&T, said: “As the demand for data and vastly expanded mobile communications grow in the 5G era, a global, cross-border approach is needed to rethink the RAN. The GSMA collaboration with the O-RAN Alliance is exactly the sort of global effort that is needed for everyone, operators and vendors alike, to succeed in this new generation.”

The GSMA and O-RAN Alliance collaboration follows a recently announced project between the GSMA and Telecom Infra Project (TIP), and the O-RAN Alliance and TIP. These collaborations aim to help avoid fragmentation and accelerate the successful evolution of the industry towards a more intelligent, open, virtualised and fully interoperable RAN. 

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