Open RAN is following the script

Despite early criticism, vendors may eventually be tripping over each other to sell open RAN products.

Robert Clark, Contributing Editor, Special to Light Reading

September 21, 2021

3 Min Read
Open RAN is following the script

The transition to open RAN is following a well-worn script.

Incumbent on the sidelines – check.

Trash-talking from the industry leaders – check.

Complaints it is too complex and unwieldy – check.

If there's a pattern in the history of the IT industry it is the continual realignment of hardware and software.

It wasn't that long ago that Microsoft was denouncing open source software in general and Linux in particular in the fiercest terms.

Then-CEO Steve Ballmer described Linux as "a cancer that attaches itself" to everything. Today open source is an uncontroversial part of its portfolio.

Open RAN is a very different technology challenge. It's not about doing the same thing with a different process but about rebuilding the radio access with standard open interfaces powered by AI controllers.

The political tensions around it also are different.

The recent Nokia flap appears to be an exercise in seeking clarity in what is a new environment.

The outcome suggests that while the US has set boundaries around its Entity List, it is willing to work with even state-owned Chinese companies to prevent fragmentation of the standard.

Its efforts in trying to split these differences still look like a work in progress.

But it shouldn't be unfamiliar to the Chinese, who have built their economic success on top of some forensic demarcation between sectors. Foreign players are welcomed in retail and FMCG, for example, but not in aerospace or energy.

Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on Light Reading.

Telecom is a case in point: The handset market is open to foreigners, network equipment is nominally open but closely held, cloud services are partially open, while infrastructure-based services are almost totally off-limits.

Foreign investors have been allowed to invest in Chinese operators – but only indirectly through ownership structures that allowed them no say.

It's noteworthy that the O-RAN Alliance is driven by operators intent on solving problems like cost and scaleability. It's not about a vendor looking for a problem to solve with its new kit.

Its advantage, as for open source, is that it can bring many more resources to bear than a proprietary system. It enables specialization and modularization of network elements and tends to be much more secure.

Huawei knows that, which is why the company has been such a big supporter of open source IT like Openstack, the basis of its Fusionsphere cloud platform.

That said, at this stage it makes sense for Huawei with its huge installed base to not jump on the O-RAN bandwagon just yet.

Its execs will keep talking down its prospects for a little while longer yet – that's also in the script.

But the intent of its customer base is clear. The virtualized, modular RAN will be here sooner rather than later and vendors will be tripping over each other as they try to get on board.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Robert Clark

Contributing Editor, Special to Light Reading

Robert Clark is an independent technology editor and researcher based in Hong Kong. In addition to contributing to Light Reading, he also has his own blog,  Electric Speech ( 

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