open RAN

FCC acknowledges open RAN is cheaper, albeit with reservations

Some elements of open RAN technology are officially less expensive than traditional RAN products, at least according to a new network equipment pricing catalogue published by the FCC.

That's a noteworthy development considering an initial version of the agency's pricing catalogue didn't show much daylight between the prices for open RAN equipment and traditional RAN equipment.

As a result, some vendors made sure to call out that pricing situation: "The draft cost catalog also demonstrates that there are not cost savings being offered through open RAN equipment estimates compared to integrated RAN estimates," Nokia wrote to the FCC in April following the release of the agency's initial, draft pricing catalogue. Finland's Nokia built its business around traditional RAN equipment but has been supplying hardware and software for open RAN networks.

Perhaps not surprisingly, open RAN proponents weren't happy that the FCC's initial pricing catalogue appeared to undercut one of their primary selling points around open RAN technology: that it's cheaper.

For example, Mavenir said in May that it was working with the FCC and Widelity – the company the agency hired to assemble its pricing catalogue – to "correct cost estimates ... used for open RAN."

Mavenir warned that the FCC's open RAN pricing information was "being used for negative marketing against the open RAN community," arguing it could result in the "detriment of open RAN in the marketplace."

Mavenir's victory

Based on details within the FCC's new, official pricing catalogue, Mavenir appears to have been somewhat successful in its efforts to change the FCC's open RAN pricing data.

"We agree with Mavenir that we should modify the catalog to reduce the low end of the range of estimated costs for 'Open vRAN eNodeB,' and 'RAN (Open RAN/vRAN Components)' to reflect the lower pricing information Mavenir submitted to Widelity," the FCC wrote in its final pricing catalogue, published earlier this month.

But the FCC said it wouldn't implement all of Mavenir's requests. "However, we reject Mavenir's request to lower the low end of the range of cost estimates for the distribution layer Distributed Unit cost category because Widelity had already factored in the pricing information Mavenir submitted to Widelity when developing the range of cost estimates for the preliminary catalog," the agency wrote.

Nokia declined to comment on the FCC's new open RAN pricing data. And officials from Widelity have declined to respond to previous questions from Light Reading on the topic.

Open RAN pricing is part of a larger discussion among policymakers and telecom executives about how the technology might affect the US telecom industry and – ultimately – the global geopolitical landscape. That's because open RAN could help foster the development of US-based telecom network equipment suppliers by allowing operators to more easily slot in equipment from new vendors. Globally, US policymakers and their allies also hope open RAN can create a technological bulwark against Chinese vendors like Huawei. Huawei has found itself near the center of increasingly contentious relations between the US and China over cybersecurity and other issues.

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

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