This week, Italian telecom operator TIM joined Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Vodafone and Telefónica in pledging their support for open RAN technology in a move which will open up the RAN vendor market. The hope is that their joint commitment will create more investment opportunities, allow for speedier development of products and open the market up to new suppliers.
The move itself will offer a potential alternative to Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia who, after years of vendor consolidation, have held the market share of radio access network products.
It’s also recognition that something needed to change if innovation in the space was going to really take off. The move will enable a greater RAN vendor market and allow operators to mix and match software and hardware depending on their needs, rather than buying all RAN components from one single supplier.
So, who’s doing what?
In signing the joint Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and combining their resources, these European operators hope to have a collaborative, meaningful impact on the way open RAN develops.
The MoU outlines the commitments and frameworks that each signatory will agree to:
- Individually commit that OPEN RAN will be the technology of choice for RAN.
- Commit to an early rollout of OPEN RAN technologies in individually relevant quantities to support the development of a healthy ecosystem.
- Collaborate to support OPEN RAN reaching competitive parity with traditional RAN solutions as soon as possible.
Additionally, each signatory agrees to jointly work on a number of open RAN topics designed to set the common standards, exchange best practice, develop the open RAN ecosystem and ultimately strengthen the European RAN industry.
While the MoU looks fairly light on actual details, avoiding any concrete commitments, the operators involved have started to up their own activity.
Vodafone have said they plan to use open RAN technology across around 2,600 of its UK mobile sites. Telefónica have promised to do the same across around 1,000 of its sites in Germany, although this is a relatively small fraction of the roughly 28,000 mobile sites they currently use.
While not too forthcoming with the details of their own roll out, Deutsche Telekom revealed their plans to build an “O-RAN” town in Neubrandenburg later this year.
The biggest commitment so far has been from Orange. From 2025, they’ve committed to buying only open RAN-compliant equipment when it’s upgrading its European networks.
Where’s the investment in open RAN coming from?
As with details on any firm commitments to how the joint commitments will be rolled out, the information regarding either private or public sector funding is also a little light.
Policy makers are being urged to commit some of the European recovery fund – a stimulus package intended to repair the economic damage caused by COVID-19 – to open RAN technology.
However, this suggestion has been criticised by some given the healthy state of the telecom sector in comparison with other industries, such as tourism, retail and hospitality, who have felt the effects far worse.
Ericsson and Nokia have already said they plan to invest in open RAN technology, although supplier diversification is high on the list of service providers, including Vodafone, who are seeking alternatives for its 2,600 mobile site rollout.
There’s also the suggestion that open RAN has become a politicised following the decision by many in the west to exclude Chinese vendors from its 5G networks. As such, public funds may be made available in order to stave off any investment from these areas.
How will this impact companies hiring?
Greater investment in future technologies and innovations brings with it new opportunities for growth, so it will be interesting to see how this commitment affects the telecoms job market.
What it is safe to assume is that move will mean that some of the challenger vendors will need to hire, and hire quickly, if they are to stand a chance of competing.
The trouble is, for those such as NEC, Samsung, Supermicro Altiostar, Parallel Wireless and Mavenir, attracting the best talent becomes more of a struggle due to the finite resource available.