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open RAN

Qualcomm touts its progress in open RAN

Qualcomm on Wednesday said its open RAN chipsets are being tested by customers (which remain unnamed) and it expects to see commercial open RAN products running its silicon in the market by the second half of next year.

The developments indicate that Qualcomm's efforts to enter the open RAN industry remain on schedule, according to Qualcomm's Gerardo Giaretta, a senior director of product management. And that's significant, according to analysts.

(Source: Qualcomm)
(Source: Qualcomm)

"Two years after announcing its 5G infrastructure portfolio, Qualcomm wants to show it remains committed and is keeping to its communicated schedule," Gabriel Brown, an analyst with Heavy Reading, wrote in an email. (Heavy Reading and Light Reading are both owned by Informa.) "Because RAN development and deployment cycles require sustained investment over a long period, systems vendors and operators greatly value reliable suppliers that meet their deadlines. Without operators being confident in your long-term commitment, it's very hard to make much headway in mobile infrastructure."

Moreover, Qualcomm should create some competition for Intel, which is currently the market leader in open RAN silicon, says analyst Joe Madden with Mobile Experts.

"Qualcomm's solution is a great example of highly integrated and hardened functions for the RU and DU [radio unit and distributed unit], so I expect Qualcomm to capture a strong share of the open RAN market," Madden wrote in an email. "According to my latest forecast, open RAN has grown to more than 200,000 radios shipped per year in 2022, with significant deployment on three major continents."

A new marketplace

Qualcomm is a major chipset supplier for smartphone makers, but the company is also branching out into adjacent sectors such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and automobiles. Thanks to the open RAN trend, Qualcomm is also hoping to expand its business into the realm of 5G radio access network (RAN) equipment. Open RAN technology promises to create interoperable interfaces among various networking components, thus allowing new vendors to slip into technology stacks previously supplied by just one vendor.

But, as Brown noted, Qualcomm is facing a number of difficult obstacles. The company will not only compete against Intel, but also other open RAN chipset vendors like ADI, Marvell and Nvidia – as well as in-house developments from Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei.

In addition, open RAN promises to allow network operators to mix and match products from a variety of vendors – meaning, Qualcomm must ensure its products can snap into radios from multiple vendors.

According to Giaretta, that's certainly possible. Qualcomm, he said, can "definitely interoperate with any other vendor."

But there's one more big overhang facing Qualcomm and all other open RAN hopefuls: The size of the open RAN market.

"During the next 6-7 years I expect the open RAN hardware market to be limited to a few operators and mostly rural scenarios," Madden noted, echoing similar forecasts that position the open RAN market as a very small subset of the traditional RAN market.

"But this new product line from Qualcomm is important as 6G is likely to be 'natively open' from the beginning, and the semiconductor market will be significantly disrupted in the 6G cycle," Madden added.

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

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