The State of Open RAN: Where we are and where we’re headed
Given the current initiatives and the strength of its overall business case, widespread adoption of Open RAN is inevitable. The timing will vary by country, depending on each operator's perception of the costs of adopting Open RAN versus the benefits.
Open RAN infrastructure adoption is increasing, with analysts predicting the market share of open RAN will account for more than 5 percent of the overall RAN market this year. As a result, network operators are looking forward to promised improvements in operational efficiency and resiliency due to the freedom to choose the best vendors for each function or service from across the ecosystem. In reality, multivendor network integration is not a simple matter of plug-and-play, despite industry standards and defined interoperability parameters established by the O-RAN ALLIANCE.
The rapidly increased deployment of ALL G goes hand-in-hand with the deployment of Open RAN. According to GSMA, 5G accounted for more than 5% of all mobile connections within 18 months of launch, and the number of 5G connections worldwide is now expected to exceed 1 billion by the end of this year. This rapid growth in subscribers, although estimated to be much faster by this time, is putting pressure on Open RAN to deliver.
So why is Open RAN so critical to the ALL G deployment?
It opens the door to a wide range of vendors/technologies/solutions to be deployed in various locations of the CSPs network. This creates several benefits for the CSPs which are all around the removal of the vendor lock-in:
- Using generic hardware with dedicated software – reducing CAPEX cost
- Better adaptation of software based on network location and services – improved network performance
- Quick adaptation of new services – better user experience.
With these benefits, it is no wonder that many CSPs are well into building and deploying their Open RAN Strategies. A good indication is a recent Jabil’s 5G survey, in which more than half of respondents (55%) said they are seriously considering an Open RAN strategy for their companies. Slightly less than a quarter (22%) already have a strategy in place.
The Open RAN trend is global and major CSPs are leading it. In the US, AT&T – who currently leads the O-RAN alliance since its first days – already started field trials back in 2020.
The company, together with Intel, recently announced a joint effort to develop advanced RAN pooling technology that, if it works as intended, could lead to more efficient, resilient and green 5G networks.
In Europe we see progress as well – The UK government published the Open RAN Principles policy paper, and has set over $1.5Billion in funding to promote, develop and deploy open and interoperable radio access networks. This government funds should take effect in the coming years for accelerating Open RAN implementation in the country. Another European CSP, Vodafone, announced that “By 2030, Vodafone expects to use open RAN technology in 30% of its masts across Europe”.
Although the time frame is a bit further down the line, it will ensure that other European CSPs like Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom could not stay behind. Both Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom have set their Open RAN labs and are well into validating different solutions. Deutsche Telekom has announced that it is planning to deploy Open RAN solutions by 2023. Telefonica has come up with a 3 phases’ plan that will lead to 30-50% deployment of Open RAN until 2025 over the company’s network.
Given the current initiatives and the strength of its overall business case, widespread adoption of Open RAN is inevitable. The timing will vary by country, depending on each operator’s perception of the costs of adopting Open RAN versus the benefits.
One of the key drivers of Open RAN architectures is the urgent need for MNOs to improve total cost of ownership (TCO) and standards, such as standardized radio interfaces defined by the O-RAN ALLIANCE and Telecom Infra Project (TIP), among others. The conclusion is that Open RAN is happening but we have to be patient.