The report's conclusion is hardly a surprise given its title – "Open RAN: the long journey from supporting act to lead role" – but will probably jar with fervent open RAN enthusiasts.
"Open RAN remains at an early stage of development and, given the time needed to evolve into a more integrated ecosystem of solutions, will probably play no more than a supporting role in global 5G deployments," said Kester Mann, director of consumer and connectivity at CCS Insight and the report's author.
Looking further forward, however, Mann is more optimistic. The "6G era," he reckons, which starts around 2030 according to industry consensus, "could see most carriers deploy the technology as a default option."
"Open RAN presents an opportunity to evolve and disrupt the vendor ecosystem, bringing fresh choice for operators and supporting the emergence of a host of new companies," said Mann in prepared remarks.
"Yet the path ahead will not be entirely smooth; the technology is unproven at scale and there are questions over interoperability, pricing and security. Momentum is undeniable, but it may be several years before we see a tangible impact on the market."
That's not to say CCS Insight doesn't see some nearer-term open RAN opportunities in 5G, but the report suggests these will be niche and limited, such as private or neutral host networks.
Moreover, given what Mann sees as "limited opportunities" for new market entrants to emulate high-profile greenfield open RAN networks from Rakuten Mobile and Dish Network, he thinks this "could restrict the potential of Rakuten's ground-breaking RCP platform."
Trad vendors moving at different speeds
Among incumbent suppliers, CCS Insight views Nokia as the "most enthusiastic and active supporter of Open RAN." Under the leadership of new CEO Pekka Lundmark, Mann thinks Nokia is starting to grab the open RAN bull by the horns.
"[Nokia sees] an opportunity to disrupt the market and threaten larger rivals Ericsson and Huawei by migrating its RAN portfolios from highly aggregated and optimized single-vendor systems to including more modular, open platforms," said Mann. Ericsson, on the other hand, has been "a more reluctant mover" in CCS Insight's opinion.
It is Huawei, however, which Mann finds as "the most pessimistic of the main players." He adds that this is because the Chinese supplier has the "most to lose" if open RAN is a long-term success, and so has "continually downplayed the technology's potential."
- Open RAN makes plenty of noise – but little progress – at MWC LA
- Open RAN specs take another step forward
- Open RAN faces a 2G struggle in India
- O-RAN Alliance's China links come under renewed US scrutiny
— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading