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Analyst outfit GlobalData has claimed the first competitive landscape assessment of the 5G RAN vendor market, naming Huawei as the clear leader.
The methodology isn’t detailed, but it seems to consist of giving each of Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung and ZTE marks out of five on the following criteria:
- Baseband capacity
- Radio unit portfolio
- Installation ease
- Technology evolution
Nobody scores less than three in any category but, as you can see from the table below, Huawei gets top marks across the board. GlobalData then aggregates those to make an aggregate score, with everyone getting four except Huawei on five. This seems a bit generous to Samsung and ZTE, both of whom averaged 3.5/5.
“The 5G RAN market is extremely competitive in these early stages,” said Ed Gubbins, Principal Analyst at GlobalData. “Operators’ decisions today will direct the next decade of global telecom investment and ultimately usher in fundamental changes to the way we live and work in the 5G era.”
“The first wave of 5G RAN equipment, called ‘non-standalone 5G’ relies on existing 4G LTE infrastructure for some functions. So in the race to win 5G deals with operators, each vendor has a strong advantage with operators that already use their 4G gear.
“Standalone 5G, which requires a 5G core, will give vendors a better chance to penetrate new operator accounts and grow their global market share. We expect the standalone 5G RAN market to start ramping up in 2020.”
Conspicuously absent from all this analysis are geopolitical considerations. It’s all very well Huawei having the best offering, but if much of the western world won’t allow it to be involved in its 5G markets that doesn’t count for much. It’s also interesting to note that the report suggests Nokia’s radio unit portfolio is much better than Ericsson’s, which in turn is easier to install.
Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this article Natasha Tamaskar, Vice President Global Marketing and Sales Strategy at Radisys, peers into her crystal ball to see what lies ahead for O-RAN.
The telecom industry has been undergoing a significant transformation for the last several years as mobile operators seek to address the bandwidth demands of the 4th Industrial Revolution – as they move from connecting devices and people to connecting everything. As such, they are transforming their networks from purpose-built hardware-centric solutions from a proprietary vendor to new open, disaggregated and software-centric networks built from an interoperable multi-vendor ecosystem.
To date, mobile operators have primarily focused on leveraging open technologies for the mobile packet core, leaving the RAN virtually untouched. Why? Because the traditional RAN, with its proprietary, embedded and integrated RRU and BBU nature, is the most difficult part of the network to disaggregate. But we are now starting to see the RAN shift into focus under the open lens. The RAN is being unbundled and disaggregated, while becoming more flexible to address real-world network conditions. The traditional RAN is now becoming the Open RAN – moving from distributed and integrated towards virtualized and centralized.
Looking into the “O-RAN Oracle” as we reach the mid-way point of the year, we can make the following predictions about why this is the year for Open RAN.
1. Maturing Ecosystems Will Accelerate Open RAN Innovation
The Open RAN network disruption defined by open ecosystems led by mobile operators with full support from agile, nimble vendors. These open communities have now reached maturity where they are delivering open reference architectures and specifications that can be implemented now.
Founded by global mobile operators just over a year ago, the O-RAN Alliance is working to bring virtualized network elements, white box hardware and open interfaces to the RAN. It joined the efforts of the xRAN Forum and the C-RAN Alliance and is focused primarily on open RAN architectures for 5G networks. The O-RAN Alliance recently announced its first standard Open Fronthaul Specifications that consist of control, user, synchronization and management plane protocols. Multiple proof-of-concepts from multiple operators and vendors are proving the efficacy of the technology.
The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) is also helping to drive RAN disaggregation, but it is enabling open disaggregation for 2G/3G and 4G networks. We predict that the efforts of TIP and the O-RAN Alliance will merge toward a common goal of simplifying the RAN, based on the principles of openness and intelligence.
The Linux Foundation is also getting in on Open RAN, forming a new open RAN software community the O-RAN SC – which is sponsored by the O-RAN Alliance. The two organizations plan to collaborate on open source software that is targeted at disaggregating the radio access network with a modular, efficient and agile approach.
2. Use Cases Are Ripe for Innovation
Mobile operators must be able to meet the latency-sensitive requirements of new 5G use cases, as well as support connectivity for private networks, public venues and stadiums, dense urban environments and more. For example, autonomous vehicles will benefit from Open RAN architectures that are deployed at the network edge. Mobile operators will be able to support RAN aware over-the-air firmware upgrades, while saving on firmware transport costs and enabling policy enforcement. The Open RAN architecture also supports network slicing for specific use cases.
3. Commercial RFPs Are in Play
Mobile operators are beginning to take Open RAN from the initial concept phase to trials and commercialization. This process will take time, but this is the year we’ll begin to see significant traction, with Open RAN already showing up in mobile operators’ RFPs. Both Vodafone and Telefonica issued Requests for Information to assess vendors’ capabilities against TIP’s OpenRAN project group, with the results were announced at the TIP Summit at the end of 2018. Multiple vendors – including Radisys, Baicells, Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, and others – were selected to build interoperable solutions.
4. 5G will Drive Disaggregation, Advance O-RAN Deployments at Scale
Disaggregation is critical to the Open RAN evolution, enabling mobile operators to truly open up within the Radio Access Network and leverage solutions from multiple vendors, thereby breaking vendor lock-in, reducing costs, while using best-of-breed components that meet their specific network requirements. As mobile operators seek to built out their new 5G networks, the move to an Open RAN architecture becomes more urgent.
Open RAN deployments are in progress for 4G networks, and large-scale deployments are being planned for 5G roll-out and innovative new use cases. The mobile operators and the vendor community are working in collaboration within maturing open communities to advance the ecosystem and ensure that next-gen 5G networks are open and disaggregated. The O-RAN Oracle calls this the year of Open RAN.
Natasha heads corporate & product marketing and sales strategy for Radisys. Natasha brings nearly 20 years of telecom industry experience with particular expertise in product and corporate marketing, product strategy and business development for cloud, SDN/NFV, wireless and security solutions. Prior to Radisys, as the VP of Cloud Strategy, she was responsible for GENBAND’s Kandy.io PaaS strategy and business development. Natasha also spearheaded and launched several of GENBAND’s key strategic solutions including Wireless Gateway, Network Security and WebRTC as the VP of Strategic Marketing. She also launched and chaired the Small Cell Forum’s first interoperability charter and group.
The public battle for 5G ascendancy between Nokia and Ericsson has moved to Japan, with simultaneous SoftBank deal win announcements.
Nokia says SoftBank has selected it as a ‘strategic partner to drive its commercial 5G offering’. In other words Nokia is selling SoftBank a bunch of 5G gear. Specifically we’re talking about the Nokia AirScale RAN product suite, the 5G version of which is added to all the stuff Nokia already does for SoftBank.
“We are delighted to continue our long-term relationship with SoftBank and to be working with them as a trusted end to end partner at such an important milestone in the transformation to 5G. We are committed to help SoftBank launch their commercial 5G network,” said John Harrington, Head of Nokia Japan.
Meanwhile Ericsson has also announced a 5G RAN deal with SoftBank, which is sensibly pursuing a multi-vendor policy of 5G kit (although presumably not Huawei or ZTE). This will, of course, involve the Ericsson Radio System and this deal seems to apply specifically to mid and high frequency bands (Nokia made no comment about frequency bands).
“SoftBank and Ericsson have been partners since the 2G era and we are thrilled to support them on this latest part of their technology journey,” said Chris Houghton, Senior Vice President, Head of Market Area North East Asia, Ericsson. “With the help of our advanced product portfolio, SoftBank can unlock the potential of 5G for Japanese society and we look forward to building on our long-standing partnership.”
Nokia also mentioned it now has 38 5G commercial contracts, including 20 with named customers. Ericsson made no equivalent claim but it recently identified 18 named 5G contracts and has recently amended that to reveal six of them currently involve live networks. We don’t know the total number of commercial contracts Ericsson has, and its public list doesn’t yet include SoftBank, so it looks like the Nordic rivals are more or less level when it comes to 5G at this stage.
Dutch operator KPN announced it has signed an agreement with Huawei to build the 5G radio network but will only select a western vendor for 5G core.
KPN said it will modernise its mobile network towards 5G, and has adopted a tightened security policy with regard to vendor selection. The company believes that “the mobile core network which from a security point of view is more sensitive”, while the RAN is less so.
As a result, the operator has entered into a preliminary agreement with Huawei to provide the radio access part of the 5G network, but the agreement is adjustable and reversable “to align it with future Dutch government policy.” Meanwhile, the company “plans to select a Western vendor for the construction of the new mobile core network for 5G.”
Jan Kees de Jager, KPN’s CFO, told the media separately that the upgrade will also involve swapping out Huawei equipment from its current core network, according to a report by Reuters. In contrast to what his counterparts in Germany and the UK have claimed, de Jager did not believe switching from Huawei for other vendors would lead to addition cost. Equipment from Nokia, Ericsson and other suppliers would be as affordable as Huawei for the 5G infrastructure, he was reported to tell the media.
“We appreciate KPN’s trust and are honoured by their decision to partner with us for the mobile radio access network modernisation,” said a Huawei spokesperson. “We are committed to support KPN in their ambition to maintain and strengthen their lead in the global telecoms industry.In general, Huawei believes that excluding parties based on geographical origin does not provide a higher level of security. Cyber security can be improved by establishing standards that apply to all parties in the sector. Today, the IT supply chain is highly globalised. Cyber security must therefore be addressed jointly at a global level and suppliers must not be treated differently based on the country of origin.”
KPN is essentially adopting the same policy as the leaked UK government guideline related Huawei’s role in the country’s 5G network: banned from the core but fine to use in the RAN. But precisely because it is adopting the same policy, KPN has to face the same issue raised by Tom Tugenthat MP, chairman of the British parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, that it will be very hard to insulate the non-core from the core on 5G network thanks to its virtualisation and software-defined nature.
Additionally, although equipment from different vendors should work together as they all comply with the 3GPP standards, standards do not cover every detail. As Huawei stand staff told Telecoms.com during MWC, there are plenty of discreet innovations vendors can make to optimise the performance of the system if both RAN and core come from the same vendor. So, operators might risk having subprime performance out of the network equipment sourced from different vendors, if not facing downright incompatibility headache.
In its preview of MWC 2019, analyst firm Ovum has forecast that revenues for both radio kit and augmented reality mobile apps will increase significantly in the next few years.
Ovum anticipated what it thinks will be the major themes of this year’s show and, unsurprisingly, 5G dominates. Monetization, device hype, mobile video and enterprise are all aspects of 5G that Ovum reckons will be extensively debated at the Barcelona telecoms fest. While there are still plenty of unanswered questions at this early stage on 5G, Ovum seems quite bullish about its commercial prospects.
While the RAN kit market is forecast to slightly decline this year, it’s expected to bounce back and start growing rapidly by 2021.
On the back of all this lovely extra bandwidth augmented reality apps are also forecast to become a lot more popular. While revenues from that segment fell in 2017, they’re expected to increase by around $2 billion per year for the next few.
Other major themes anticipated in the report include: consumer AI, data privacy, IoT and RCS.
Ericsson has announced a couple of pieces of corporate housekeeping that could symbolise the end of one era and the start of a new one.
Right at the end of last week the company announced the divestment of 51% of its media solutions business, which is rebranded as MediaKind last summer for reasons best known to those concerned. It turns out you need more than a rebrand to turn a business around and this division remains a lowlight of Ericsson’s earnings, but at least it only needs to account for 49% of its rubbish numbers from now on and it reckons the next quarter will be half a billion Krona better off as a consequence.
As if to demonstrate how much it has already moved on Ericsson then announce it’s joining the O-RAN Alliance. This refers to open RAN which, as you can see from the video by Heavy Reading’s Gabriel Brown below, is all about pushing innovation in the RAN market. The O-RAN Alliance was unveiled at last year’s MWC so Ericsson has left it a year to join an organisation that it must surely view, at least partially, as a threat to its interests.
“Ericsson is a strong supporter of openness in the industry, and the benefits this has on global ecosystems and innovations,” said Erik Ekudden, Ericsson CTO. “Our ambition is to actively support and drive discussions and developments around future RAN architectures and open interfaces. The O-RAN Alliance is an important coalition that creates an arena for these discussions, complementing other standardization and open-source initiatives in the industry which we are already active in.”
Noble words from Ekudden, but the traditional business model for big kit vendors has favoured exactly the opposite. Using closed, proprietary technologies not only offers greater control over their development and implementation, but also creates the environment for vendor lock-in, where the operator is committed to that once vendor for maintenance, upgrades, etc. This restricted choice results in higher margins and is one of the reasons operators are so keen to open things up.
So while we’re happy to take Ekudden’s statement at face value, there seems to be a fair bit left unsaid. It looks like the O-RAN Alliance is here to stay, so it makes sense for Ericsson to be involved with it, even if only to get the inside track on the evolution of this threat to its margins. And if its participation occasionally hindered the process of opening up the RAN market, then maybe Ericsson would be OK with that too.
Here’s Brown’s take on the O-RAN alliance and you can read further analysis on Light Reading here.
A few days after the news was leaked Ericsson has formally announced a major deal win with Wind Tre in Italy.
Earlier this week it was reported that Ericsson had scored a €600 million deal to supply base stations to Italian operator Wind Tre. The added twist to that leak was that the deal apparently came at the expense of ZTE, with Wind Tre quite reasonably concluding the embattled kit vendor might not be most reliable destination for its hard-earned millions.
Perhaps as a result of that leak Ericsson has not got the green light from Wind Tre to crow about the deal. It didn’t reveal the value and resisted the temptation to gloat at ZTE, but confirmed that the deal involves the provision of Ericsson Radio System gear, including radios and basebands, from October this year.
“Our strengthened partnership with Wind Tre will bring the best radio access solutions on the market to life in their nationwide network,” said Arun Bansal, Head of Europe & Latin America at Ericsson. “This will help to ensure that Wind Tre delivers the best user experience possible to its customers in an increasingly data hungry and ultra-low-latency demanding market.”
This deal augments the core network deal Ericsson scored with Wind Tre back in April. This means Wind Tre is seriously committed to Ericsson as a kit vendor going into the 5G era and will be an important case study in the effectiveness, or otherwise, of its 5G gear.
After years of probing, posturing and prognosticating the telecoms industry has committed to the first 5G New Radio standard.
At Mobile World Congress earlier this year the decision was unilaterally made, with some dissent, to fork the development of 5G NR into standalone and non-standalone versions. The apparent need for this fork was so that we could get on with the air interface part without having to wait for the core and all the attendant mind-boggling complexity to be finalised.
As a consequence, while much of the 5G core will have to wait until the middle of next year to reach its first standard ‘freeze’ (i.e. the work done so far is set in stone), we have been able to freeze the first standard for just the air interface component of 5G. Because this will still rely on the legacy 4G core it is referred to as non-standalone (NSA – not to be confused with the National Security Agency, or indeed No Strings Attached).
To get a better sense of the significance of this we spoke to Ulises Olvera-Hernandez of InterDigital, who is an active participant in the system architecture group of the 3GPP and has generally been elbows-deep in the 5G standardisation process from the start. “This is a very significant drop for the 5G specification,” he said.
“The physical and control layers are fully developed at this point. This is very significant because the base station and terminal chips can now be made. The radio will be pretty much the same between NSA and SA. The Summer 2018 release will bring the SA radio, which will mean the NSA radio we have just standardized will be able to connect to the new 5G core.”
As has been extensively covered, 5G is about a lot more than just more 4G – i.e. improved data rates. The world also wants 5G to enable massive IoT with technology that combines very low energy use with limitless scalability. And as if that’s not enough we also need 5G to offer the kind of robustness, efficiency and flexibility that will allow utopian use-cases such as autonomous vehicles and robotic surgery.
“This release includes something that is referred to as ‘ultra-reliable, low latency communications’,” said Olvera-Hernandez. “In simple terms this requires a new radio interface that is able to respond much quicker.” He also said the whole IoT aspect has not been covered in this release but will be addressed subsequently.
One other significance of this milestone is how it positions the 3GPP in the overall 5G standard mix. This stuff is ultimately adjudicated by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) via its IMT2020 group and the deadline is looming. You can see the submission timeline below.
“This also prepares for the IMT2020 submission,” said Olvera-Hernandez. “3GPP will be one of the radio interface technologies that are proposed and the first submission is due in February 2018. So that is a key aspect of this release.”
But the most immediate and conspicuous consequence of freezing the 5G RAN standard will be the legitimization of the use of 5G by the marketing teams of any company even remotely associated with the telecoms world. They hardly need encouraging, of course, but the 5G spam we have had to endure to date will pale into insignificance compared with the deluge to come.
“Companies will now be able to say they have a 5G radio interface and that their core network is ‘5G ready’,” said Olvera-Hernandez. 5G ready. The phrase alone is enough to make those of us who earn a living by spending an unhealthy about of time banging on about phone stuff shudder in grim anticipation. We will probably see the first 5G ready claims as soon as everyone has got over their New Year hangovers but, more surprisingly, we might even see actual commercial products to back that claim up before the end of the year.
“I believe we will see 5G in the form of NSA in 2018,” said Olvera-Hernandez. “I think that towards the end of next year you will see commercial 5G products, as a year should be sufficient to make this happen. We will see voice carried in a better way in the 5G system than it has been with 4G because there has been a complete re-engineering of the quality-of-service aspects of 4G.”
The decision to go with NSA first seems pretty sensible on one level, but while it has sped up the process by which various telecoms industry stakeholders can legitimately claim to have 5G products and services, it also creates a separate set of complexities. The marketing frenzy is inevitable but it does risk setting unrealistic expectations, which will be exacerbated if the process of reconciling NSA with SA doesn’t go smoothly.
If all this has merely served to whet your appetite for telecoms technicalities you can have yourself a very geeky Christmas by reading this 3GPP brief introduction (!) to the 5G system architecture. On a lighter note we’ll leave you with this photo of the 3GPP architecture working group on the lash, having hit their milestone.