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Ericsson swings into 5G RAN action at Three UK

Three UK has confirmed that Ericsson is its "second supplier" of 4G and 5G RAN equipment but appears in no rush to rip out and replace gear from "first supplier" Huawei.

According to the official statement from the UK's fourth-largest mobile network operator, it has "agreements in place with Huawei and Ericsson" for 5G rollout.

Three UK sees Ericsson as supplying the "next stage" of its 5G deployment, however.

The operator will remove Huawei equipment, as stipulated by the UK government, but that doesn't need to happen until 2027.

Supplier merry go-round
Three UK originally chose Samsung for 4G RAN rollout. It then had a change of heart. Last year, the operator started swapping out Samsung equipment with Huawei gear for the purposes of a 4G upgrade and 5G rollout.

Huawei currently occupies around 25% of Three UK sites, which gives some credence to the operator's oft-made claim that it's less reliant on the Chinese supplier than its rivals.

Three UK has still to provide any hard detail on the timetable of Ericsson's 4G and 5G RAN rollout but said the Swedish supplier "will work on the remaining part of our 5G rollout."

All this raises the question of whether or not Three UK will opt for a new "second supplier" (assuming both Samsung and Huawei are shown the door).

Nokia could be an option to diversify the RAN ecosystem – the Finnish vendor is Three UK's core network provider – but perhaps the operator has got its eyes on open RAN.

Waiting for open RAN
Ericsson and Nokia might be lukewarm on opening up their "monolithic" RAN equipment with open APIs, which promises to make it easier for smaller players and startups to get a look-in, but industry could look very different by 2027.

The "second supplier" question may well have become irrelevant if Three UK and other operators can take advantage of a much richer ecosystem courtesy of open RAN.

But industry is not there yet. Far from it. In a recent webinar hosted by Light Reading, Santiago Tenorio, the chairman of the Facebook-backed Telecom Infra Project (TIP) – and Vodafone Group's head of network strategy and architecture – worried that too much was expected of what is still a nascent technology.

"The risk is that open RAN is overplayed," he said. "The risk is governments and regulators think operators can simply rip out the kit they have in place, substitute it with open RAN and then everything's going to be fine."

— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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