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OpenRF pledges compatible devices this year

The OpenRF Association is promising to show concrete progress in 2022. One of the group's top executives told Light Reading that gadgets running its initial specifications should hit the market later this year.

OpenRF is working to bring the kind of interoperability promised by open RAN into the smartphone industry. In an interview, Kevin Schoenrock, president of the association, suggested that it's still early days.

"Membership is slowly increasing," he said, declining to provide details on forthcoming OpenRF-compatible products. "Things are functioning" within the association.

Schoenrock, who is also an executive with vendor Qorvo, explained that OpenRF is building a framework that standardizes hardware and software interfaces inside 5G devices, ranging from phones to laptops and drones. It's important work, he said, because the radio frequency (RF) technology inside 5G is incredibly complex, which could hinder the ability of smaller component suppliers and device vendors to play in the market.

"In 5G, the complexity has exploded," Schoenrock said.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 Android smartphone supports 5G. (Source: Karlis Dambrans / Alamy Stock Photo)
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 Android smartphone supports 5G.
(Source: Karlis Dambrans / Alamy Stock Photo)

The goals of the OpenRF Association are similar to those of the O-RAN Alliance and other efforts in the open RAN space. Open RAN technology promises to create open interfaces between different networking components, thus allowing network operators to mix and match products from a variety of vendors. OpenRF aims to create easy-to-use connections between the RF components in a 5G device and the rest of its electronic components.

But, just like in open RAN, OpenRF has vocal supporters and detractors. Broadcom, Intel, MediaTek, Murata Manufacturing, Qorvo and Samsung support the group, but Qualcomm – a massive player in the 5G chipset space – does not.

Nonetheless, Schoenrock argued that OpenRF is moving forward. The group hit the market less than two years ago. At the end of last year, it released its first "Version 1.0.0" specification.

"This initial specification provides the groundwork for RF front-end to chipset interoperability including a software development environment for advanced feature sets," according to the group.

Now, OpenRF is working to put that spec into devices, while at the same time rallying more industry support. For example, the association recently released a study highlighting the importance of battery life in 5G devices, in order to inform future OpenRF work.

Meanwhile, Qualcomm continues to work on packaging its RF products with its other smartphone components like processors. That strategy is working, according to some analysts.

"Qualcomm is also in a very unique position to further make inroads into the premium Android smartphone market by supplying a leading-edge RFFE [RF front end] portfolio and other components such as ultrasonic fingerprint sensor and quick charge," research and consulting firm Counterpoint wrote in a recent post. The firm said that MediaTek led the Android smartphone system-on-a-chip (SoC) market in 2021 with a 46% share, followed by Qualcomm with 35%.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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