Analysts forecast a take-off in demand, but they also warn open RAN could fail to reach its objective of building out a more innovative supply chain.

Robert Clark, Contributing Editor, Special to Light Reading

March 18, 2024

2 Min Read
Neon sign saying 'open' in red letters, with a blue frame and blue and black background.
(Source: Super Straho/Unsplash)

Open RAN is getting some market traction, but it's running the risk of not achieving any of its objectives.

Analysts are predicting a healthy take-up of open radio access network (open RAN) gear in the second half of the decade. Dell'Oro expects it will account for 20-30% of global RAN sales by 2028, up from 7-10% this year.

Omdia (a sister company of Light Reading) has some similar numbers, although it has a different definition. Its forecast is that open vRAN, which it describes as a combination of open RAN and virtualized RAN (vRAN), will increase from 6% of the global market in 2023 to nearly 20% by 2028.          

On a regional basis, Rémy Pascal, Omdia's mobile infrastructure senior research manager, says open vRAN penetration will likely be at its highest in North America, Europe and advanced APAC markets such as Japan, but lower in other regions.

But the market is being dominated by single-vendor deals, as exemplified by the landmark AT&T-Ericsson contract and Verizon's deployment of massive MIMO Samsung radios – a long way from the original promise of open RAN.

Less incentive to innovate

The concept has emerged slowly over the last two decades as a path to providing an alternative to the traditional integrated proprietary systems. It was meant to end lock-in, provide operators with more choice and flexibility, and open the market to more competitors.

But ABI Research's Larbi Belkhit warns the long-term single-vendor deployments potentially threaten all of these.

"If the market continues to be dominated by single-vendor solutions, there could be less incentive for vendors to innovate, which could slow the pace of technological advancements for Open RAN, including reaching the objective of true network disaggregation," he said in a research note.

He cautions that significant single-vendor deployments could move the market away from the true goal of multivendor interoperability.

"The continuation of PoCs and trial announcement indicate that operators have not given up on the multi-vendor concept, but rather that it is not ready for large-scale deployment," he wrote, adding: "ABI Research believes that both operators and vendors must play a role in ensuring that the open RAN market does not 'close' itself off to only a handful of vendors."

The other piece of course is Huawei. The Trump Administration landed on open RAN as the most likely way of forging an alternative industry ecosystem to the dominant Chinese vendor.

Today, Huawei, which has around a third of the 5G market, officially has no open RAN products, but there seems to be nothing to stop it from joining the Open RAN Alliance, which already has several Chinese vendor members, including ZTE and CICT, the parent of Fiberhome and Datang.

It's only a matter of time before Huawei will feel the need to add its own version of "open RAN" to its product portfolio and become another single vendor supplier. Where will that leave the open RAN dream? 

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 (http://www.electricspeech.com). 

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