Canada's Telus is embracing the open RAN trend.
"I think it's the way forward," Bernard Bureau, VP of network and architecture strategy at Telus, said Thursday at the Big 5G Event hosted by Light Reading.
Bureau explained that, in the future, Telus would require its vendors to support open RAN technology. However, he added plenty of caveats to that signal of support.
"It's a little more difficult for us to apply in Canada," he said of open RAN technology.
Most importantly, he noted that Telus only counts 10 million mobile customers, making it a fraction of the size of massive mobile operators like Verizon or Vodafone. That, he said, will make it more difficult for Telus to take on the complexities involved with open RAN.
"You want to have an implementation that is simple enough," he said.
Specifically, Bureau explained that open RAN technology would require one company to act as an integrator. After all, the open RAN concept promises to separate the elements of a wireless network into Lego-style bricks that operators can mix and match – one vendor's radios could be connected to another vendor's baseband, for example. But, as Bureau explained, someone will actually need to do that mixing and matching, and who that might be remains to be seen.
"We saw multiple models that were proposed," Bureau said, explaining that Telus looked at open RAN implementations in a recent Request for Proposal and found that one model involved a vendor doing the integration while another would require Telus itself to do the integration.
"For us, it's a little bit more difficult to take on the integration," he acknowledged.
5G challenges and opportunities
Bureau also offered additional insight into Telus' entry onto the world's 5G stage. He said the company launched 5G earlier this year in a sliver of its AWS spectrum holdings but plans to expand it across other spectrum bands in the future. He said the company is using equipment from China's Huawei as well as from Samsung, Nokia and Ericsson. Telus' selection of Huawei as an equipment vendor is controversial, of course, considering American policymakers have branded the vendor as a threat to national security and have been working to create a list of countries and operators that have eschewed Huawei.
For its part, Huawei continues to argue its products cannot be used by the Chinese government for espionage.
Interestingly, Bureau suggested that Canada's leading position in the global wireless industry in terms of network speeds and performance may suffer in the months and years to come. He said the Canadian government won't auction valuable midband spectrum until next year, and won't release the kinds of large swathes that 5G operators are looking for.
As Telus navigates its initial foray into 5G, Bureau said the company is working on enterprise applications for the technology ranging from precision agriculture to remote healthcare services. He also said the company is implementing advanced automation technologies into its 5G network to make it easier to run.
He also said Telus would likely deploy the "standalone" version of 5G sometime later next year or in 2022. That's at least a year behind most US operators; for example, AT&T announced this week it would launch standalone 5G later this year and would "scale" it next year.
The standalone version of 5G is seen as an upgrade to the "non standalone" version most operators initially launched; standalone 5G does not require a 4G network as an anchor and can support services including network slicing.