10 Trends and Predictions in Telecom 2021 – Open RAN, 5G, 6G and More
While the COVID-19 pandemic turned 2020 upside down, it was also a significant year with many firsts in telecom. Several operators launched 5G networks, and 5G phones made their debut. Open RAN saw great strides as well, taking off in ways no one expected in 2020. From the consolidation of the RAN supply chain to a ban on Chinese suppliers, many mobile operators around the globe opened up their networks to Open RAN faster than any other new technology in the past. And it was no wonder given Open RAN-driven innovation, a promise of TCO savings up to 40%, and enablement of supplier diversity with the disaggregation of hardware and software components.
To learn what 2021 could have in store for telecom – from Open RAN and beyond – read our trends and predictions below.
#1 – Open RAN adoption will reach an inflection point in 2021. Open RAN will be deployed more widely for new use cases like very dense urban, but 2021 will also be a year of “disillusionment” as there will be more trials, more deployments, and more findings of challenges and opportunities that are faced with deploying Open RAN. However, following the disillusionment will come a slope of enlightenment followed by a plateau of productivity for the Open RAN movement.
#2 – We will see large-scale and urban Open RAN deployments. There will be more large-scale deployments of hundreds of sites in brownfield networks. Many service providers have been steadily adding Open RAN to their established 2G, 3G and 4G mobile infrastructure. Carriers around the globe will be continuing their work aggressively deploying Open RAN to expand their 2G, 3G, 4G footprints and modernize their networks in an effort to be more competitive in the next five years, ensuring their overall network infrastructure is Open RAN, not just 5G. Proven in rural, Open RAN will be deployed in urban in 2021 with large-scale urban Open RAN deployments happening in 2022.
#3 – The Open RAN ecosystem will expand beyond hardware and software suppliers. In addition to software and hardware players, we will see more system integrators and tower companies jumping in to support Open RAN as integrators or hosts. This will help to define new business and deployment models.
#4 – More Open RAN hardware from RUs to Massive MIMOs supporting 7.2 split. In 2021, we will see more hardware availability, especially supporting the 7.2 split because O-RAN interfaces come in where 3GPP interfaces don’t exist. A requirement for vendors to support split 7.2 will ensure vendor diversity and interoperability going forward and will allow the mixing and matching of RUs with CU and DU software that will be deployed on an x86 server.
More mobile operators will likely require their All G Open RAN solutions to support O-RAN 7.2 split. Since 2G and 3G will continue to be around for quite some time, MNOs will want to deploy a true Open RAN platform when modernizing their legacy systems – which is only possible when RUs and software are able to run over 7.2 radios.
#5 –A first Open RAN site with LEO satellite for backhaul could be trialed with a commercial MNO. Satellites have been used for backhauling 2G/3G/4G sites for a very long time. Today, these are all mainly based on geostationary (GEO) satellites that are very far away and have a high latency. The low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites promise to reduce this latency significantly. There are many challenges that LEO satellites have yet to overcome, but that should not stop anyone from trying an Open RAN site with LEO for backhaul.
5G and 6G
#6 – 6G may roll out earlier than expected. Although 5G is still in its early days, 6G is the latest trending discussion topic. 6G is expected to be rolled out in 2030, but there are some predictions of it coming as early as 2028 and as late as 2032. In the meantime, it will gain hype and momentum with events, trainings and prototype devices.
#7 – 5G will continue to be rolled out a full speed with both Non-Standalone (NSA) and Standalone (SA) networks. Power consumption will be a hot topic, and new solutions for reducing energy consumption will likely make a debut – which will be essential for lowering TCO and protecting MNOs’ investment in 5G.
#8 – Active Antennas will be recognized as the most essential 5G component to delivering the full potential of 5G.
2G, 3G and 4G
#9 – 4G will be the driver for the growth and survival of the telecom industry for the foreseeable future. According to industry analysts, 4G will be the most popular technology worldwide in 2025, as many 4G networks have been deployed over the past 5 years, with more likely to roll out.
#10 – More operators will start modernizing their 2G/3G infrastructure, mainly driven by the need to reduce power consumption in their networks. This is already occurring but is likely to continue to gain momentum. Many users around the world are still heavily dependent on these legacy technologies. In fact, GSMA has consistently forecasted that 3G will be the most widely used technology in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in 2025. 2G will likely gain prominence as the sunset of 3G gains momentum.