Open RAN gains global momentum

As 5G rollouts ramp up, common themes are emerging at an international level on opening up the technology and vendor ecosystem.

Anne Morris, Contributing Editor, Light Reading

March 11, 2021

4 Min Read
Open RAN gains global momentum

The US-based Open RAN Policy Coalition was established almost a year ago now, and has managed to gather around 61 members in the past ten months with a mix of operators and vendors from around the world.

Although it is notable that China-based vendors and operators are still missing from the lineup – in contrast to the O-RAN Alliance, the group that develops open radio access network (RAN) specifications – Executive Director Diane Rinaldo insists that the coalition is neither US-centric nor tied to the US government.

"The majority of the members signing up after we launched are international members," Rinaldo said during an open RAN webinar this week, although she did not specifically address whether or not the coalition would be open to members from China.

Figure 1: Wide vista: The view for Open RAN is clear for miles. (Source: Jack Sloop on Unsplash) Wide vista: The view for Open RAN is clear for miles.
(Source: Jack Sloop on Unsplash)

"We are focused on competition … and so our message is educating policymakers around the world that if you're able to standardize the interfaces, you're going to drive competition in the radio, the hardware, the software space," she said.

Rinaldo admitted that when the coalition was first launched, it was initially focused on how to solve problems at the domestic level, such as ensuring the security of communications networks and creating a "robust and diverse supply chain" as 5G networks ramp up.

"We quickly realized that this is in fact a global conversation," she said. "We launched an effort in September to start doing outreach with global policy makers and since then we have talked to 26 different countries. And we are hearing very similar things."

A key task, said Rinaldi, is breaking down the myths about what open RAN actually is. "It's not a new technology; it's just a different way of structuring the architecture of telecom networks," she said.

Rinaldi was joined on the panel by executives from ABI Research and open RAN proponents Altiostar and Xilinx. Interesting to note is that the panelists broadly agreed that open RAN is what is being defined at the O-RAN Alliance.

"Is it the O-RAN Alliance, [Telecom Infra project/TIP], Rakuten ... small cell forum?" asked Dimitris Mavrakis, senior research director at ABI Research. "From my side I would say it's the O-RAN Alliance, so open interfaces."

Anil Bhandari, vice president of product management at Altiostar, agreed, noting that the work on open RAN at other organizations is set to play more of a supportive role.

Money talks

Rinaldi said common themes that are emerging in open RAN discussions at international level are a desire for greater vendor diversity as well as the emergence of domestic champions; concern about concentration in any one country; and the need for government leadership to help scale up the technology "as we ramp up to 5G."

Want to know more about Open RAN? Check out our dedicated Open RAN channel here on Light Reading.

"There's been so little venture capital money in the telecom space, because the barrier for entry is too high," she added. "5G is going to really let loose the private enterprise market that's also going to be a new economic revenue stream for the subcomponent levels."

Brendan Farley, managing director EMEA and vice-president for wireless engineering at Xilinx, also pointed to the fact that this is "all about new use cases for different verticals to get involved in 5G and a chance for operators and the wider ecosystem to generate new revenue stream from the infrastructure that's being deployed."

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Anne Morris

Contributing Editor, Light Reading

Anne Morris is a freelance journalist, editor and translator. She has been working in the telecommunications sector since 1996, when she joined the London-based team of Communications Week International as copy editor. Over the years she held the editor position at Total Telecom Online and Total Tele-com Magazine, eventually leaving to go freelance in 2010. Now living in France, she writes for a number of titles and also provides research work for analyst companies.

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