The GSMA, the telco industry lobby group, has announced a new partnership with the O-RAN Alliance to accelerate the adoption of Open Radio Access Network (RAN) technologies.
Although the benefits of OpenRAN technologies are still widely disputed by opposing corners of the industry, there is clear momentum gathering. With telcos desperate to make the commercial realities of network deployment more attractive, it should come as little surprise new ideas are being embraced.
“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,” said Andre Fuetsch, Chairman of the O-RAN Alliance, and CTO of AT&T.
“The GSMA collaboration with the O-RAN ALLIANCE is exactly the sort of global effort that’s needed for everyone, operators and vendors alike, to succeed in this new generation.”
The promise of OpenRAN technologies is simple. Firstly, more competition will be introduced to the market to encourage diversity and resilience. Secondly, once hardware and software have been disaggregated, deployment costs will be decreased, and innovation can be increased as best-in-breed technologies can be selected for each segment. Finally, vendor lock-in will become a thing of the past.
The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) has recently released a report which demonstrates the drive of the mobile network operators (MNOs). 53% are now prioritising total cost of ownership (TCO) reductions as profits erode and capital expenditure expenses increase.
What is worth noting is that the MNOs are taking a realistic view on the development of this segment. 66% believe Open RAN technologies will be critical to the survival of numerous MNOs as ARPU falls, but it will be several years before a comprehensive, resilient and competitive ecosystem emerges. A third of tier-1 and half of tier-2 telcos believe they will have commercially launched OpenRAN by 2023, but this does not mean the death of traditional network infrastructure within a generation.
While all these promises sound very interesting, optimism is not shared by all in the industry.
“Not all openness is good and not all closed-ness is good,” Nokia CTO Marcus Weldon said this week.
The likes of Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei will give messages of support to OpenRAN in public, but there will always be an undertone of doubt, as is in Weldon’s message above. The OpenRAN movement fundamentally destroys their business model so it is not difficult to understand why they have resisted and not been as helpful as they could have been to date. Slowing down this movement provides a bit more time for profits without disruption to operations after all.
The OpenRAN ecosystem is not ready yet, despite what some might insist, though progress is being made. And while this partnership might seem like little more than a ribbon cutting ceremony it is also very important. Like Vodafone or Telefonica embracing OpenRAN trials, a partnership with the GSMA provides credibility for the technologies, encouragement for less adventurous and innovative telcos.