AT&T told the FCC it plans to begin adding open RAN-compliant equipment into its network "within the next year."
That puts AT&T on roughly the same timeframe as Verizon. Verizon's SVP Adam Koeppe told Light Reading earlier this year that the operator's 5G hardware vendors – Ericsson, Samsung and Nokia – will begin supplying open RAN-compliant equipment starting later this year. And he expects that the bulk of their equipment shipments to Verizon will comply with open RAN specifications by next year.
AT&T told the FCC it expects to implement similar changes into its own network.
"The challenge for an operator shifting to any open network architecture, including but not limited to O-RAN, will be maintaining network reliability, integrity and performance for customers during the transition," the operator wrote in a filing. "For our part, AT&T serves multiple customer groups, with varied and often complex, service requirements. As we introduce O-RAN into our network, our goal will be maintaining the same high level of performance at scale. We are actively working in this direction."
AT&T added though that it and other operators won't switch over to open RAN all at once.
"While the industry will likely experience a gradual introduction of O-RAN into existing networks, those developments are not mutually exclusive," the operator explained. "Some deployments may still leverage traditional network infrastructure. For example, many 5G RAN [radio access network] deployments will be specific to the site environment or the particular needs of a customer. At the end of the day, the best policies would promote competition among vendors and investments in technology, which will drive the best value proposition in terms of cost, scale and performance."
Light Reading reported last year that AT&T was commercially operating an open RAN network design in Dallas with equipment from Samsung and Ericsson, citing evidence uncovered by Signals Research Group.
AT&T of course is no stranger to the open RAN topic. The company has been closely involved in a number of standards and technology groups involved in the open RAN trend including ONAP, the O-RAN Alliance, ONF and the Telecom Infra Project.
Concerns about open RAN limitations
However, AT&T warned that open RAN may not be able to meet all of its networking requirements just yet.
"AT&T's diverse customer base includes individuals, small businesses, government agencies, including FirstNet, and large enterprise clients, many of which require an extremely complex feature set," the operator wrote. "AT&T will not introduce new technology that cannot or will not fulfill all of those requirements at scale. More work needs to be done to ensure that O-RAN can meet our complex feature set. AT&T is working with several partners on addressing these issues and fully anticipates resolution over time."
AT&T's comments are in response to an FCC query focused on open RAN. Legislators across the US and the world have been looking at whether open RAN can further a number of their policy goals, including fostering domestic suppliers and creating a bulwark against Chinese vendors.
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