Rakuten takes first step towards a hybrid operator/vendor telco

Rakuten and NEC will develop a containerized standalone (SA) 5G core network, which will become one of the first products available on the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP).

Although any news or developments coming out of Tokyo are of interest to the world nowadays, there are two very distinct elements to this announcement. Firstly, the creation of a containerized SA 5G core network, and secondly, the emergence of a hybrid telco model, where Rakuten is an operator but also a vendor, selling products to other telcos who want to embrace the open revolution.

“We are very excited to collaborate with NEC on the development of our standalone 5G core network,” said Tareq Amin, CTO of Rakuten Mobile.

“Our partnership with NEC represents a joint collaboration to build an open, secure and highly scalable 4G and 5G cloud native converged core, that will also become a key feature of the highly competitive services we will offer to global customers through the Rakuten Communications Platform.”

The containerised SA 5G network core will be built on software source code developed by NEC, powering the standalone network launch in 2021 (theoretically). Although the product itself is not exactly revolutionary, the concept has been discussed for years, the selection of NEC is a notable one.

NEC software will be the brain of Rakuten’s network, one which is build on OpenRAN technology and virtualised components. This is a vote of confidence in the Japanese vendor, a mark of credibility in an ecosystem which is still in its embryonic days. The inclusion in one of the industry’s most ground-breaking projects certainly gives it an advantage over rivals, many of whom are attempting to justify their existence in the Open ecosystem.

The Rakuten overarching mission is one which has captured the imagination and interest from telcos around the world; an attempt to build a network entirely with ‘open’, non-proprietary technologies. Should it work, it could be a gamechanger when it comes to the telco supply chain.

The promise from Rakuten is to deploy a network cheaper than via traditional means, but also to slash operational costs. The executive team has already said it envisions a network operations team of hundreds, as opposed to thousands as per normal, which could result in saving millions each year. If these savings are transferred through to lower data tariffs, there could be a disruptive force on the horizon.

Should this gamble pay off for Rakuten, there will be considerable interest in the ‘open’ ecosystem, with NEC collecting much of the plaudits but the likes of Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, Altiostar, Red Hat, Cisco, Innoeye and Netcracker all benefitting. These companies are of course very interesting, but it is the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) which is a more dramatic shift.

Rakuten has not been shy about his intentions to sell its ideas. It is an interesting move, as few telcos would want to sell their family jewels, and this is what the Rakuten ‘open’ network would be. This is the secret recipe, a competitive edge over rivals, but Rakuten wants to monetise this.

With all the innovation taking place in Rakuten’s network deployment strategy, the opportunity to monetize these ideas by selling to potential rivals is certainly a new approach. Few other telcos would want to take this approach, but few other telcos can implement this strategy in earnest, perhaps explaining why it is open to selling the secret recipe.

Rakuten’s network is greenfield, while most others are brownfield. Rakuten can implement these new ideas everywhere, whereas rivals can only consider elements here and there. Rakuten will always have an advantage taking a wholesale approach, whereas others can only take the bit-part route.

This is a new dynamic, a new business model for the telcos, creating a blended operator/vendor hybrid company. Should this work, it will be interesting to see how many other telcos embrace such a collaborative mindset, one which is very counterintuitive to attitudes today.

GSMA cosies up to O-RAN Alliance

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.


Telecoms.com Poll:

When will OpenRAN be ready to be embraced by the industry without reservation?

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OpenRAN lobby group forms in US with 31 founding members

A new lobby group has emerged in the US, known as the Open RAN Policy Coalition, with a mission to guide policy making and encourage the promotion of the OpenRAN movement.

OpenRAN is of course gathering momentum across numerous different segments of the telecoms industry, though it is still in its embryonic days. It will be years before OpenRAN can materially challenge the status quo in the network infrastructure ecosystem, but assistive government policy and a generous regulatory environment could certainly accelerate this roadmap.

“As evidenced by the current global pandemic, vendor choice and flexibility in next-generation network deployments are necessary from a security and performance standpoint,” said Diane Rinaldo, Executive Director of the Open RAN Policy Coalition, though we aren’t too sure how the two are related.

“By promoting policies that standardize and develop open interfaces, we can ensure interoperability and security across different players and potentially lower the barrier to entry for new innovators.”

As a technology set, OpenRAN disaggregates radio, hardware and software components of telecoms networks. The objective is to offer the opportunity for telcos to build networks through a modular design, selecting each component on its own merit as opposed to proprietary technologies which bundle everything together and potentially create vendor lock-in situations.

Theoretically, networks should be cheaper to deploy as there would be greater diversity in the supplier ecosystem with specialists emerging in each segment.

The purpose of this group is as most would expect; to influence government policy for OpenRAN technologies and to encourage enforced diversity in telecoms supply chains. The group will push for policies which are more overtly in support of open and interoperable wireless technologies, funding R&D, lower barriers for 5G deployment and use government procurement to support vendor diversity.

Much of what is being said is hardly different from the corporate and meaningless jargon which litters the industry thanks to the influence of PR agencies who have little more than surface knowledge, but some of the policy objectives are quite interesting:

  • Signal government support for open and interoperable solutions: Perhaps this is suggesting the group will push governments to pick a camp and actively promote open technologies
  • Use government procurement to support vendor diversity: Should the lobby be successful, maybe there will be regulatory requirements to incorporate open technologies into any network which receives public funds
  • Avoid heavy-handed or prescriptive solutions: Could these mean an end to proprietary technologies through legislation?

For some, this might seem like a worrying development (Ericsson, Nokia or Huawei are hardly going to be thrilled) but the move has been welcomed by others in the industry.

“The launch of the Open RAN Policy Coalition shows the momentum building behind a more competitive, innovative, technology ecosystem,” said Attilio Zani, Executive Director of the Telecom Infra Project.

“At the heart of TIP’s work is the development and deployment of open, disaggregated, standards-based solutions – that are developed in conjunction with the operators. This, together with a supportive policy environment that allows new technology to flourish, will create greater opportunities for new entrants and a more diverse supply chain that will ultimately transform the industry to deliver the high-quality connectivity that the world needs – now and in the decades to come.”

The emergence of a formal lobby group is another step towards the breakthrough of Open RAN technologies, though momentum is already gathering very quickly in the US.

In protest against China emerging as the powerhouse of the 5G era, the US Government has been quick to jump on the Open RAN bandwagon. This preference serves two purposes for the US Government; firstly, it dilutes the influence Chinese infrastructure vendors have on the industry, and secondly, it stimulates the creation of US infrastructure companies. There aren’t many US names in the RAN game currently.

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced to Congress to provide up to $1 billion of federal funds to create Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE.

“Every month that the US does nothing, Huawei stands poised to become the cheapest, fastest, most ubiquitous global provider of 5G, while US and Western companies and workers lose out on market share and jobs,” said Senator Mark Warner, a particularly vocal critic of China.

“Widespread adoption of 5G technology has the potential to unleash sweeping effects for the future of internet-connected devices, individual data security, and national security. It is imperative that Congress address the complex security and competitiveness challenges that Chinese-directed telecommunication companies pose.”

OpenRAN technologies are not a market-ready alternative for traditional RAN equipment in most circumstances now, though there is swift progress being made. With the likes of Rakuten and Dish championing open networks, the status quo is beginning to shift, which will only be accelerated with political support. The formation of this lobby group to compound existing support in the US political aisles is a very interesting development.

Founding members of Open RAN Policy Coalition:

Airspan, Altiostar, AWS, AT&T, Cisco, CommScope, Dell, Dish Network, Facebook, Fujitsu, Google, IBM, Intel, Juniper Networks, Mavenir, Microsoft, NEC Corporation, NewEdge Signal Solutions, NTT, Oracle, Parallel Wireless, Qualcomm, Rakuten, Samsung Electronics America, Telefónica, US Ignite, Verizon, VMWare, Vodafone, World Wide Technology, and XCOM-Labs.

Dish adds more credibility to OpenRAN with Mavenir selection

Mavenir has boasted of signing new US entrant Dish as its latest customer, as the emerging telco sets its sights on the most enviable of tasks; a greenfield network deployment.

Like Rakuten in Japan, Dish is able to embrace the OpenRAN movement like few others can around the world. Without being inhibited by legacy technologies or traditional operational models, the Dish team can build a network from scratch, without making compromises or concessions. It is a dream-come-true for any network engineers; the opportunity to deploy a network exactly as you would want to.

“The open and intelligent architecture of our greenfield network will give us the ability to source a diverse technology ecosystem, including US-based solution providers,” said Marc Rouanne, Chief Network Officer at Dish, and former Nokia executive.

“Mavenir will help us lay the foundation for an innovative software-defined network with the flexibility, intelligence and scalability to deliver applications that will redefine the US wireless industry.”

As part of the agreement, Mavenir will provide Dish with a cloud-native OpenRAN software, which the new telco hopes will underpin the US’ first software-defined 5G wireless broadband network.

While the obvious and most proclaimed benefit of the OpenRAN ecosystem is a wider array of suppliers, all promising there is no such thing as vendor lock-in, another significant upside to the OpenRAN movement is on the operational side of the business.

According to Tareq Amin, Chief Technology Officer at Rakuten, commoditised hardware and open software can lead to a 40% reduction in CAPEX costs for network deployment, but it is in the operations team that the real benefits can be seen. Amin has said the operations team should not exceed 350 employees when the entire network has been deployed, compared to thousands which are employed by rivals.

This is a considerable cost saving for Rakuten, which has allowed it to create 5G tariffs to challenge the status quo. At 2,980 Yen per month, Rakuten is offering mobile connectivity services at roughly half the price of competitors. Customers will have to wait for the full network deployment to experience the full wonder of cut-price Rakuten data, but this is an incredibly disruptive move.

The prospect of pricing disruption in the US is a very interesting one, as it is one of the most expensive markets in the developed world for data.

Market Average Revenue Per User (ARPU)
USA 30.85
UK 16.00
Italy 11.55
Netherlands 13.48
Australia 22.65
Canada 36.67

2020 ARPU estimates from Omdia’s World Information Series (USD – $)

Although there has been much protest over the formation of Dish as a replacement for Sprint in the US mobile industry, this is a positive sign. There are of course plenty of hurdles which need to be overcome, however the construction of an OpenRAN network presents the opportunity for Dish to be incredibly disruptive on pricing when it is launched.

Dish only exists thanks to the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile US, though the major opposition to this transaction was on the grounds of competition. Firstly, critics questioned whether moving to three major MNOs was in the best interest of the consumer, and secondly, opponents wondered whether Dish would be able to create an offering which would match more established rivals.

Eyes should be kept on Japan to see whether Rakuten is a disruption or a minor irritation, but the promise of OpenRAN has been very glorious to date.

While the promise of starting from scratch is very attractive to a telco, Heavy Reading Lead Analyst Gabriel Brown notes, that is a significant issue as well. Starting from nothing means there is nothing there and in a country the size of the US, building a nationwide 5G network is no simple task.

One concession forced on Sprint/T-Mobile US by the Department of Justice was to offer Dish an attractive MVNO style agreement for seven years. This was one element bundled into the $5 billion deal to purchase the Boost prepaid service from Sprint. During this seven-year period, Dish will have to build its own 5G network, a monumental task according to Light Reading’s Mike Dano.

Firstly, work has to stop on the NB-IOT network it was currently deploying. Secondly, Dish has got to find the cash to pay for the 5G network. Thirdly, work will begin on the core network, which Dish executives say will be completed within Year One. Finally, comes the access network.

As part of the agreement with the Department of Justice in greenlighting the Sprint/T-Mobile US merger, Dish will have to option to purchase any cell sites which the merger duo plan to decommission thanks to overlap. Outside of these purchases, Dish will have to deploy backhaul and radio equipment into the major cities, with a promise 20% of the US population will be covered by June 2022.

Thanks to the software-defined ambitions of Dish, a significant chunk of this deployment work can be saved, due to the weightier role of the data centre. That said, the US is a country with a population of 328 million spread over 9,147,590 km2, it is 3,937% larger than the UK. As much as we can talk about the advantages an OpenRAN network will offer Dish over its rivals, it will have to build it first.

An optimist will point towards a future where the OpenRAN-powered Dish can offer disruptive pricing strategies, similar to what has been done in India and will be done in Japan, to turn the US telco market on its head. The pessimist in the group will point out this is a company which has never built a network before, with a CTO who has vendor experience not telco, and a country which is monstrously large, geographically diverse and bureaucratically varied.

KDDI and Softbank join the network sharing craze as Rakuten risk rises

Japanese telcos KDDI and Softbank have inked a network sharing partnership to ease the commercial pressures of connectivity in the rural regions.

Network sharing agreements are becoming increasingly common, perhaps one of the more prominent trends of 2020, owing to the financial pressures being placed on the telcos. With 5G and full-fibre projects on the books for many telcos, deploying connectivity infrastructure in the more sparsely populated regions, were ROI is significantly lower, is a tricky spreadsheet to balance. Telcos are increasingly looking to network sharing partnerships, to ease the financial burdens of building the foundations of the digital economy.

The new company, which will be known as 5G Japan Co, will be managed by co-CEOs Noriaki Terao (seconded from KDDI) and Eiji Otaki (seconded from SoftBank). With each telco owning 50% of the company, the network will reach out into the rural regions to provide suitable densification of 5G base stations for the 28 GHz and 3.7 GHz airwaves.

While network sharing agreements to create a more attractive ROI are not uncommon, perhaps there is more demand in Japan than many other nations. These are telcos who may have to deal with a very significant disruption in the shape of Rakuten.

As the poster boy for the open movement, Rakuten is building a network as many telcos would love to; a greenfield project, completely disassociated from the concept of legacy technologies and systems. This sort of network deployment is a dream come true for any telco and has the potential to offer significant benefits.

Firstly, it has been claimed the network can be run with only 350 employees, a fraction of the workforce running competitors’ networks. Secondly, it could be significantly cheaper to construct, thanks to Rakuten’s embrace of the OpenRAN movement. And thirdly, due to the acceptance of openness, upgrades should be faster and cheaper. This is the sort of network which everyone would build if they could start from scratch tomorrow.

There is still plenty which could go wrong with Rakuten’s business. The network could fail, or it might not be as successful as hoped in teasing subscriptions away from rivals, but the threat is very real for the Japanese telco industry. With investments substantially reduced for network construction, maintenance and upgrades, the demands on ROI are lessened. Rakuten is suddenly afforded a lot more flexibility when it comes to pricing.

At the beginning of March, Rakuten unveiled its ‘UN-LIMIT’ 5G data tariff costing 2,980 Yen per month, roughly half of what rivals have been offering. What is worth noting is that when customers are out of range of a Rakuten owned base station, a 2 GB download limit will be introduced as well as data throttling. This will be a disadvantage for the telco as it is rolling out its network, though the risk of pricing disruption is very clear.

Reliance Jio in India has already demonstrated how a market can be turned upside-down if a disruptor is allowed to gather too much momentum. This is a lesson which the likes of KDDI, Softbank and NTT Docomo should be learning as Rakuten comes online; new initiatives will have to be introduced across operations to realise efficiencies.

Without these initiatives, network sharing partnerships being one, the traditional Japanese telcos will not be able to sustainably compete with the Rakuten tariffs.

Indosat Ooredoo the latest to join the OpenRAN race

With OpenRAN enthusiasm stampeding through the industry, Indosat Ooredoo is the latest telco to join the race.

Indosat Ooredoo will become the first telco in Asia to push forward with OpenRAN trials as the team searches for cost effectiveness and accelerated network deployment in Indonesia. The field trials will be up-and-running by April, focusing on the least developed regions of Indonesia.

As part of the initiative, Indosat Ooredoo will also establish the first TIP Community Lab in South-east Asia during the second quarter. This will be the twelfth TIP Community Lab to be opened worldwide in what will act as a telco-neutral platform for the telco community to trial solutions, to drive through interoperability and test market readiness of products.

“Only through collaboration can we accelerate the pace of innovation in telecom networks; we are excited to see the Indonesian telecoms community rallying together for this purpose,” said Attilio Zanni, Executive Director of TIP. “This is the beginning of a transformation journey in Indonesia – as the telecoms community and Indonesian citizens reap the benefits of a locally tested and deployed TIP-led solution, and a stronger supply ecosystem.”

“Indosat Ooredoo has a similar vision with the Government to create an effective and equitable digital ecosystem throughout Indonesia and encourage the emergence of local players,” said Ahmad Al-Neama, CEO of Indosat Ooredoo. “We hope this collaboration will accelerate the creation of a healthier industry and improve the digital economy and better life for the people of Indonesia.”

Specifics for the project are still thin on the ground for the moment, though perhaps this is intentional. Indosat Ooredoo has spoken about encouraging a local ecosystem, and perhaps this will be favoured over the internationally recognised OpenRAN players.

While OpenRAN is collecting interest from telcos all over the world, Indonesia is one of the regions for which the technology can offer the biggest benefits. As a nation where the connectivity industry still has a lot of headroom for growth, ARPU and a significant digital divide has faltered progress.

The promise of OpenRAN, disaggregated software and hardware, could lead to alternative vendors and commoditised equipment to drive down deployment costs. The theory is a revolution, breaking the shackles of the traditional vendor community and inspiring competition for lower costs.

Aside from these trials, Etisalat is trialling OpenRAN across the Middle East and North Africa, while MTN is another which has promised to implement OpenRAN over 5,000 sites across Africa. Turkcell is driving its own implementation in Turkey and IpT Peru is a new telco running trials in Peru.

Although the vast majority of these trials are taking place in the developing markets, the promise of OpenRAN can also help address rural connectivity issues in more developed markets. Vodafone and O2 in the UK are two telcos in the UK making use of OpenRAN to fill in the pockets of poor connectivity in the more sparsely populated regions of the country. Rakuten in Japan is another telco driving forward, though this is one telco not inhibited by the crutch of legacy networks.

The issue which does remain is whether the performance of these decoupled products can match that of the status quo. OpenRAN might be exciting but the likes of Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei have been honing their own solutions for close to a decade. It might be some time before this embryonic technology can match up, but while telcos are facing up to the enormous bill to deploy 5G and full-fibre networks, any proposals to save a bit of cash here and there will certainly be appreciated.

Nokia cautions Senators on plans to control technology decisions

One Senate subcommittee is searching for the silver bullet to the network infrastructure conundrum, though Nokia and other industry figures have warned against politicians making procurement decisions.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has been hearing testimonies from various industry figures to examine the security and integrity challenges for telecommunications networks. The objective is to create regulation and legislation which benefits all, except the Chinese, and maintains security principles.

But in the pursuit of national security, some in the industry question whether the US Government is extending its influence too far into the business operations of the telcos. One concern which has been raised is if it would be a sensible decision to legislate what technologies the telcos have to use.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Roger Wicker not only condemned Chinese vendors and the threat posed by China in the digital economy, but suggested Government should be playing a more active role in the development of standards and deployment of 5G. This is all well and good, until Government starts to make telco decisions for the telcos.

Below, we have taken a few extracts from the testimonies to demonstrate the concern from the telco industry.

Steve Berry, CEO, Competitive Carriers Association:

However, policymakers should not mandate which technologies are used in wireless networks, but instead should encourage research into new, secure technologies to enhance customer choice, innovation, and cost savings. For carriers with existing network infrastructure, additional research may facilitate increased ORAN deployment as well, and it is important that all network operators are positioned to manage additional steps for interoperability across multiple vendors.

Mike Murphy, CTO, Nokia Americas:

In short, there is limited maturity in both ORAN and Radio Access Network virtualization. For this reason, Nokia believes that putting these burdens on rural carriers, the least capable of being early adopters, would be unreasonable and should not be a pre-requisite for federal funding to replace their existing equipment, at this time.

James Lewis, Director of the Technology Policy Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies:

The move to an open, modular approach to telecom will change supply chain dynamics in ways that favour the US (and Japan). The supply chain for telecom will depend on semiconductors, chipsets, and specialized software (including “open source” software), all areas where the U.S. has a substantial lead over China – in some cases there are no Chinese competitors. Estimates of how long this telecom transformation will take range from three years to a decade.

In an effort to combat the attractiveness of Huawei and ZTE technology to small and rural telcos, the US Government has created a Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund of at least $750 million and a Multilateral Telecommunications Security Fund of at least $500 million. Through these two financial packages, it is hoped viable and commercially feasible alternatives can be created.

As part of securing funding, there is some suggestion in official documents that implementing Open RAN technologies could be a pre-requisite. Encouraging the industry one direction is fine, but forcing telcos, and in this case the likelihood is small telcos, to adopt a technology which is not yet market ready is a potentially worrying path to take. This position has of course not been written into legislation or regulation, but the opportunity to do so is there.

While it is far from uncommon for Governments to want to shepherd the development of an industry, the level of intervention which is currently feared should not be considered healthy. Bureaucrats work in bureaucracies because they are good at bureaucracy. Engineers work engineering projects because they are good at engineering. The status quo seems perfectly acceptable so why should it change.

Sometimes Government should just be Government, and it should let private industry be private industry.

Parallel Wireless fights for Open RAN leadership with Peruvian win

Parallel Wireless is arguably carving out a leadership position in the increasingly popular Open RAN movement as it bags another contract in Peru.

The likes of Mavenir, NEC, Altiostar and Cisco are all vying for attention as the new infrastructure trend gathers steam, but it is Parallel Wireless who’s name keeps popping up all over the world. This week, the vendor has announced an agreement with Internet para Todos Perú (IpT Peru), a new telco owned by Telefonica, Facebook, IDB Invest and CAF.

“We have selected Parallel Wireless Open RAN to help us reduce our network deployment costs through disaggregation of hardware and software, RAN and core virtualization and network automation with real-time SON for deployments across Latin America and 5G readiness,” said Renan Ruiz, CTO of IpT.

“We are proud to have been selected for these deployments in Latin America to deliver quality wireless services to the end users and businesses through better communication and collaboration between ‘development’ and ‘operations’ groups by enabling the CI/CD based operating model,” said Steve Papa, CEO of Parallel Wireless. “The end goal is to help global MNOs build and release software at high velocity. without making extensive capital investments or incur ongoing maintenance cost associated with legacy network deployments.”

The new telco, IpT, is an effort by the four players to seek revenues in a market which has been notoriously difficult to find success. South America is another region where the digital divide is very evident, though with new technologies gaining maturity, connectivity is becoming more of a commercial reality.

While it may seem unusual to see Facebook associated with these projects, the social media giant has been the driving force behind the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), an organisation where the mission is to deliver the internet to all. Part of this mission is Open RAN, to decouple hardware from software in the network, helping to reduce deployment costs and improve maintenance.

When you tie all of these elements together, it means internet for more people. And internet for more people means more advertising opportunities for Facebook and its customers. As you can only serve so many ads to a single user without destroying the experience, Facebook has to introduce more services and attract more users to continue growth. It is attempting to do both, and Open RAN is proving to be an important component to ‘connect the next billion users’.

Irrelevant as to whether the ambitions of these projects are philanthropic or commercial, the end result is more people accessing the digital economy, which shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing. Open RAN is increasingly becoming a mature technology, and while it might not be ready for the more developed markets where telcos still rely on the resilience of the tried and tested traditional RAN, there is traction in the developing markets.

Looking around the world, Parallel Wireless does seem to be one of the more popular vendors in these embryonic test beds.

With Vodafone, Parallel Wireless has been drafted in to help run trials in the UK business and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is also one of the partners drafted in to help MTN deploy OpenRAN over 5,000 sites in 21 markets and was also recently named as the main partner for Etisalat to trial the technology across its markets in Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Mavenir, Cisco and NEC might be making a significant amount of noise in the press for OpenRAN, though Parallel Wireless seems to be making more waves with deals and active trials. It is always worth noting that not all deals and trials will be proclaimed from the treetops, on the evidence which is available to use Parallel Wireless has arguably taken an early leadership position.

OpenRAN enthusiasm spreads to Turkey

Mavenir has announced Turkcell as its latest customer, with the pair planning to deploy OpenRAN vRAN technologies in the telcos domestic market.

As part of the agreement, Mavenir’s Virtual RAN solution will be deployed on Turkcell Telco Cloud and it will be first workload that will be going live on Turkcell Edge Cloud. Mavenir claims this vRAN architecture and platform can support 4G as well as both the NSA and SA implementations of 5G NR.

“At Turkcell, we have reached more than 60% virtualization in our mobile core network. We already take great advantage of what virtualization has to offer and are willing to extend the benefits of virtualization coupled with OpenRAN for the next step in Turkcell’s Radio Access Network evolution,” said Gediz Sezgin, Turkcell CTO.

“With its broad experience and expertise in RAN technologies and Network Virtualization, Turkcell will make great contribution for innovation on open vRAN towards 5G era. We are excited to take on and lead this journey.”

Turkcell becomes the latest in a string of companies seeking to drive forward with the OpenRAN technologies, though it is not entirely clear how scaled the deployment will be. There are of course interesting promises being made by the OpenRAN community, though few telcos would be prepared to invest comprehensively during these embryonic stages of development.

To understand where OpenRAN might gain the most traction it would probably be best to look at the regions with the lowest ARPU. Turkey is an interesting market, as according to data from Cable.co.uk, the average price of GB on mobile tariffs is as low as $2.25. This is certainly not as low as some other markets, though it starts to get tricky to drive ROI when data tariffs are below global averages.

The promise of OpenRAN is to commoditise the hardware components of the radio access network, which will allow hardware and software to be decoupled. This should, in theory, reduce the cost of radio deployment and remove any vendor lock-in threats which may still persist. This is an attractive idea for companies who need to rebalance the expenditure/profitability equation.

For the moment it is difficult to see what the long-term position of OpenRAN in the vendor mix will actually be. It is not resilient enough a technology just yet for scaled deployments, though some have suggested enthusiasm for trials is a stick to beat traditional vendors down on price.

In the markets where ROI is disastrously difficult to realise, OpenRAN will certainly play a role in the future, as it will probably in rural regions. Though it does remain to be seen how much of a dent OpenRAN will put into the fortunes of the traditional RAN vendors.

Mavenir looks to cash in on US xenophobia

At times, US anti-China rhetoric flirts with the line between protectionist and xenophobic, but that won’t bother the likes of Mavenir as it touts its All-American credentials.

It what appears to be a relatively unprompted submission, Mavenir lawyers have filed documents with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stating the firm is as patriotically-US as apple pie, watery lager, high-powered rifles and gas-guzzling jeeps.

The objective here is quite clear; the US political administration does not like China, is prepared to spend big to supercharge an alternative telco vendor to the likes of Huawei or ZTE, and Mavenir wants to get rich as the establishment attempts to drown the success of China’s technology industry under the patronising veil of national security.

It is opportunism at its finest.

“Mavenir noted that it is the industry’s only US-owned, US-headquartered, end-to-end network software provider delivering OpenRAN and virtualized networks,” the filing states.

There are of course other companies who could be deemed American, though it appears they have their own faults. Parallel Wireless, for example, is headquartered in New England, is funded by Californian moneymen, but some of its founders are Indian. It almost ticked all the boxes!

Although it is an unusual strategy from Mavenir, it might work.

US politicians might be losing the political battle to extend its anti-China rhetoric throughout the world but presenting a genuine alternative might be one way to aid this propaganda campaign. An alternative which is also driving forward the attractive OpenRAN technology to add a cherry on top.

While it might still be a technology in its infancy, OpenRAN is capturing the hearts and minds of those who want to force through disruption in the RAN ecosystem. The Nokia/Ericsson/Huawei cartel does not present a significant amount of competition, which OpenRAN could help with, while it could also make the economics of 5G network deployment more attractive.

There are a few initiatives which are progressing around the world. Rakuten is deploying a fully virtualised network with the OpenRAN community at the heart. Admittedly it doesn’t have to worry about legacy technologies muddying the waters, but Vodafone, MTN, Telefonica and Etisalat are attempting to blend OpenRAN into a more traditional network work environment, with legacy complications and all.

Earlier this month, the Democrat Senator for Virginia Mark Warner introduced a new bill to Congress. The Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act will aim to provide $1 billion to create Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE. This is the prize the Mavenir gold-diggers are chasing.

And to sweeten the deal, Mavenir has also suggested it is able to help the poor rural providers dig out the dangerous technology from naughty Huawei and ZTE. We suspect it will all be done for a patriotically attractive price, or at least attractive to the Mavenir swashbucklers.

This is what some might call underhanded PR, a tactic which is more at home on ‘The Thick of It’ than the telecommunications slugfest. But it is an excellent of opportunism, which will probably be successful for the All-American vendor.