European telecoms big guns team up to drive Open RAN deployments

Major regional operators embark upon collaboration to provide a framework for the creation of an interoperable market for Open RAN

With 5G deployments continuing apace across the region but potentially hamstrung by lack of diversity among suppliers of essential technology, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone are joining forces to support the roll-out of Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) as the technology of choice for future mobile networks.

Working, said the companies, for the benefit of consumer and enterprise customers across Europe, the parties have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and expressed their individual commitment to the implementation and deployment of Open RAN solutions that take advantage of new open virtualised architectures, software and hardware to build more agile and flexible mobile networks in the 5G era.

They said the initiative will be an important milestone towards a diverse, reinvigorated supplier ecosystem and the availability of carrier-grade Open RAN technology for a timely commercial deployment in Europe.

As the ramifications of political decisions taken in 2020 to exclude so-called high-risk suppliers, in particular Huawei, from national mobile infrastructures play out, diversity in essential tech supply is very much on the agenda for all operators. It is also one of the key drivers for an expanding the Open RAN market, which, said analyst ABI Research in 2020, is expected to exceed the traditional RAN market for the first time in the 2027-2028 timeframe.

Around the same time, a study by RAN Research noted that given acceleration increasing in the removal of China suppliers, Open RAN technology was by 2026 likely to account for $32.3bn worth of all radio access network spending, 58% of the total, and be deployed at 65% of all 5G comms sites.

With these dynamics likely to be in play, the four operators said they would work together with existing and new ecosystem partners, industry bodies such as the O-RAN Alliance and the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), as well as European policy makers, to ensure Open RAN quickly reaches competitive parity with traditional RAN solutions.

The telcos believe the introduction of Open RAN, virtualisation and automation will enable a fundamental change in the way operators manage networks and deliver services. Operators will be able to add or shift capacity more quickly for users, automatically resolve network incidents or provide enterprise level services on-demand for industry 4.0. Operators will be able to draw on the reinvigorated supplier innovation to drive cost efficiencies and more flexibly deliver customised services in response to evolving customer demands.

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“Open RAN is the natural evolution of radio access technologies and it will be key for 5G networks,” said Enrique Blanco, chief technology and information officer (CTIO) at Telefónica, adding that the firm believes the whole industry must work together to make it a reality.

“I am excited to be partnering with major European operators to promote the development of an open technology that will help to enhance the flexibility, efficiency and security of our networks,” he said. “This is an extraordinary opportunity for the European industry not only to promote the development of 5G, but also to participate in its sustainable technological development.”

Michaël Trabbia, chief technology and information officer (CTIO) at Orange, added: “Open RAN is the next major evolution of 5G RAN. Orange believes it is a strong opportunity for existing and emerging European actors to develop O-RAN based products and services, starting with indoor and rural areas. This evolution should be supported by a large European ecosystem (academics and research, software and hardware developers, integrators, public funding for R&D) as it is a unique occasion to reinforce the European competitiveness and leadership in the global market.”

“Open RAN is about network innovation, flexibility and faster roll-out,” said Claudia Nemat, chief technology officer. “[We are] committed to its promotion, development and adoption to ensure the best network experience for our customers.

“To seize this opportunity, it is critical that we join forces with our leading European partners to foster a diverse, competitive and secure 4G/5G ecosystem based on open RAN solutions. Through our open labs and community activities, we facilitate smaller players to enter the market with their solutions. To build on this foundational work, we urge government support and funding for community activities that will strengthen the European ecosystem and leadership in 5G.”

On behalf of Vodafone, group chief technology officer Johan Wibergh was confident that Open RAN had the power to stimulate European tech innovation. “Opening up the market to new suppliers, with our ambition and government advocacy, will mean faster 5G deployment, cost-saving network efficiencies and world-class services,” he said.

However, for the project to create an Open RAN ecosystem to succeed, he said the operators and partners needed to have a supportive investment environment and political backing.

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