Europe Encouraged to Take the Open RAN Plunge

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Open RAN got a shot in the arm late last week when five of the leading European telecommunications companies called upon European Union policymakers to “urgently prioritize” the deployment of open, intelligent, virtualized and fully interoperable radio access networks to ensure that Europe continues to lead in 5G, and, eventually, 6G.

Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefónica and Vodafone delivered  recommendations for building an Open RAN ecosystem for Europe in a new report, based on findings from Analysys Mason. Policymakers already strongly back Open RAN in the United States and Japan, among other countries, according to Caroline Gabriel, Research Director at Analysys Mason. The United States spends $1.5 billion to fund Open RAN, and Japan offers financial incentives and tax benefits for equipment suppliers. 

“While there are some positive examples at national level, for example Germany, today, the European Union as a whole is falling woefully short of providing the necessary support for Open RAN,” Gabriel said.

Claudia Nemat, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer of Deutsche Telekom, cited the backing of Open RAN in North America and Asia as good examples of leadership for the EU to follow. “Decisive action is needed now to ensure Europe maintains its competitiveness in the development of the next generation networks,” Nemat said. “Europe should not fall behind but seek a leading position in the new Open RAN ecosystem. It will help accelerate network innovation, faster rollouts and service creation for our customers.”

Entitled “Building an Open RAN ecosystem for Europe,” the report shows that Europe currently has only 13 major Open RAN players, compared with 57 for the rest of the world. Additionally, many European players are in early stages and have not yet secured commercial Open RAN contracts, while vendors from other regions are moving ahead. Currently, European vendors are not present in all six major technology and service categories that comprise the Open RAN value chain, such as cloud hardware.

The formation of an Open RAN ecosystem will result in stronger, more resilient supply chains and platforms, as well as technology leadership, while having a positive impact on adjacent industries such as cloud and microelectronics, according to Analysys Mason

A report by Interdigital early this month, “Open RAN: The Long Journey from Supporting Act to Lead Role,” was less enthusiastic, addressing the challenges associated with the large-scale transformation.

“Critics point to the complexity involved in incorporating an unproven technology platform that could take years to establish standards and product maturity, and some risk averse mobile operators remain reticent about moving away from fully integrated systems from established suppliers,” according to Kester Mann, Director of Consumer and Connectivity at CCS Insight.

“The path ahead will not be entirely smooth; the technology is unproven at scale and there are questions over interoperability, pricing and security,” Mann said. “Momentum is undeniable, but it may be several years before we see a tangible impact on the market.”

Another risk of Open RAN is that it could fragment the telecom equipment market if not carefully managed, representatives from Orange and BT Group told a Telecom Infra Project (TIP) forum last week, according to Mobile World Live

Last September, the O-RAN ALLIANCE, based in Germany, stated it remains committed to delivering open, intelligent, virtualized and fully interoperable RAN, in light of concerns that some participants may be subject to U.S. export regulations.

By J. Sharpe Smith Inside Towers Technology Editor

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