AT&T taps Ericsson Open RAN to pioneer path to networks of the future

US comms giant inks five-year network transformation agreement with Swedish comms tech company as it aims to pioneer path to programmable and intelligent networks of the future

In a collaboration that is being described as industry-defining and marking a pivotal milestone for the Open RAN industry, Ericsson has signed its largest ever deal –worth roughly $14bn – with AT&T to deploy a wide range of its 5G Open Radio Access Networks products and support the US operator’s nationwide Open RAN ambitions.

Under the terms of the deal, the Swedish comms tech company will build a 5G network platform for AT&T, using cloud-native technologies built on O-RAN standardised interfaces – with what Ericsson said will have industry scale, cost efficiency, sustainability and high performance top of mind. Over time, AT&T and Ericsson will transform this to a cloud-native open network.

The strategic agreement centres on creating an open programmable network that will enable AT&T to accelerate the commercial introduction of Open RAN equipment and open network management services from multiple suppliers, using purpose-built hardware and virtualised commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware.

The Ericsson offerings include latest-generation Ericsson Massive MIMO and remote radios that are hardware-ready for the next generation of open fronthaul technologies. These radios are designed to lead to lower total cost of ownership (TCO) through their reduced weight, size and power consumption.

The bundle also includes recently launched Ericsson RAN Compute and Cloud RAN services that will introduce the shift to Open RAN architecture with open interfaces and disaggregation to enable partnerships in new areas of the Radio Access Networks. It is also envisaged that this will allow Ericsson to build RAN SW in a modular way as it looks to build a horizontal connectivity platform. The Ericsson Intelligent Automation Platform (EIAP) will aim to provide multi-supplier, multi technology service management and automation for the AT&T network.

AT&T and Ericsson will jointly promote and make use of the open EIAP rApp Ecosystem with its marketplace and Software Development Toolkit (SDK) to accelerate rApp development and innovation for AT&T and third-party software providers globally.

Ericsson will also provide support in the AT&T network for O-RAN Alliance SMO interfaces including O1, O2 and A1 (in the non-real-time RIC), and encapsulate the R1 interface between the non-real-time RIC and the rApps.

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Ericsson said its open architecture will act as a springboard for developers to innovate and drive use and business cases, and that it’s developed sustainability-centred technology offerings to support its belief that future networks must be increasingly resilient, open, sustainable and intelligent. The intelligent and programmable capabilities will see use in enabling rApps, automation and network application programming interfaces (APIs) to be built and exposed and in turn realise the potential that 5G was designed for – creating new monetisation opportunities in the process.

“High-performance and differentiated networks will be the foundation for the next step in digitisation,” said Ericsson president and CEO Börje Ekholm. “I am excited about this future and happy to see our long-term customer, AT&T, choosing Ericsson for this strategic industry shift – moving to open, cloud-based and programmable networks.

“Through this shift, and with open interfaces and open APIs, the industry will see new performance-based business models, creating new ways for operators to optimise and monetise the network. We are truly proud to be collaborating with AT&T in the industrialisation of Open RAN and help accelerate digital transformation in the US.”

Chris Sambar, executive vice-president of AT&T Network, added: “AT&T is taking the lead in open platform sourcing in our wireless network. With this collaboration, we will open up radio access networks, drive innovation, spur competition and connect more Americans with 5G and fibre. We are pleased that Ericsson shares our support for Open RAN and the possibilities this creates for American digital infrastructure.”

The deal and its potential ramifications have already been noted by the comms industry. Kristian Toivo, executive director of the Telecom Infra Project, said the inclusion of incumbent suppliers underscores the critical role of their expertise and established relationships in driving the success of this open and disaggregated journey.

“This is a compelling proof point, affirming that Open RAN is unmistakably steering in the right direction, with major vendors converging into the ecosystem,” he said. “Together, we are shaping a future where innovation and collaboration redefine the landscape of telecommunications.”

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