ANTWERP, Belgium -- ONS Europe 2019 -- The telecoms industry needs more vendors and, specifically, it needs more competition in the radio access network (RAN) technology sector, and that's a situation that industry body GSMA thinks it can help to rectify.
Talking here during a panel session on the benefits of open source specifications and industry standards, Beth Cohen, NFV/SDN Product Strategist at Verizon, noted that not enough vendors are involved in helping to develop the cloud-native specifications that operators will need to build their next-generation platforms and, echoing a call that was repeated by multiple speakers over three days here, she stated that a collaborative effort involving operators and their suppliers and partners was needed. "We have a lot of suppliers that are not signed up to this process," said Cohen.
Speaking during the same panel session, the GSMA's head of future networks, Henry Calvert, said not only that too few vendors are getting stuck into open source cloud-native specs development efforts but that "we have a drought of suppliers … we need greater diversity."
The situation is pertinent to the GSMA because it's playing a significant role in the Common NFVI Telco Taskforce (CNTT), which the mobile industry group jointly hosts with the Linux Foundation: The CNTT this week unveiled the first fruits of its labors with the publication of its initial common Reference Model and first Reference Architecture.
But such a statement -- that there aren't enough suppliers trying to win business in the telecom sector -- might come as a surprise to those who believe the telecoms vendor community could benefit from further consolidation. But talking to Light Reading on the sidelines of the event, Calvert noted how little investment there has been in telecoms technology startups in recent years before adding that there is a particular dearth of suppliers in the RAN market. "There are only five," he noted.
That would be Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung and ZTE.
While it's true that those five clearly dominate the global market, there are some niche alternatives, such as NEC, Parallel Wireless and Altiostar: The latter will play a key role in Rakuten's (delayed) cloud-native mobile network and has been involved in Telecom Italia's virtual RAN trials.
But given that radio access networks are ubiquitous, being expanded and will underpin digital society developments, it's perhaps understandable that the mobile operator community, which the GSMA represents, would like more options, particularly now as two of the five (Huawei and ZTE) could be either banned or become vendor non grata in multiple markets as Chinese technology continues to be demonized by the current US administration.
But what can be done? Light Reading pointed out to Calvert that Altiostar, for example, is already eight years old and that even if investors decided today that they'd pump money into RAN startups, there are many hurdles to get to market and it's a slow process.
Well, it seems the GSMA is exploring what might be done to expand the RAN supplier options. Calvert says the industry body is looking at ways in which it can help to introduce greater competition in the RAN market by "helping to break down some of the barriers to entry" for new players.
What could the GSMA do? It's too early for anyone to say, including Calvert, but any such move would take the GSMA into new territory that might please its operator members but perhaps may not be quite so welcomed by the existing RAN specialists.
This is definitely a development to watch.
— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading