Will operator commitment to Open RAN catalyze vendor R&D?

European operators Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, and Vodafone are joining forces to support the rollout of Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) in future mobile networks across Europe.

The four carriers signed a memorandum of understanding in which they have expressed their individual commitment to the implementation and deployment of Open RAN solutions.

In  a statement, the operators said they will also work together with existing and new ecosystem partners, industry bodies like the O-RAN Alliance and the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), as well as European policy makers, to ensure Open RAN quickly reaches competitive parity with traditional RAN solutions.

Enrique Blanco, CTO at Telefónica, said in a statement: “Open RAN is the natural evolution of radio access technologies and it will be key for 5G networks. Telefónica believes the whole industry must work together to make it a reality. I am excited to be partnering with major European operators to promote the development of an open technology that will help to enhance the flexibility, efficiency and security of our networks.”

“Open RAN is the next major evolution of 5G RAN. Orange believes it is a strong opportunity for existing and emerging European actors to develop O-RAN based products and services, starting with indoor and rural areas. This evolution should be supported by a large European ecosystem as it is a unique occasion to reinforce the European competitiveness and leadership in the global market,” Michaël Trabbia, CTIO at Orange, said. 

In traditional RAN, the networks are deployed using fully-integrated cell sites, where the radios, hardware and software are provided by a single supplier as a closed proprietary solution. With Open RAN the industry is working towards standards and technical specifications that define open interfaces within the radio system, including hardware and software, so that networks can be deployed and operated based on mix-and-match components from different suppliers.

The four operators also said they believe that the European Commission and the national governments have an important role to play to foster and develop the Open RAN ecosystem by funding early deployments, research and development, open test lab facilities and incentivizing supply chain diversity by lowering barriers to entry for small suppliers and startups who can avail of these labs to validate open and interoperable solutions.

“Through our open labs and community activities, we facilitate smaller players to enter the market with their solutions. To build on this foundational work, we urge government support and funding for community activities that will strengthen the European ecosystem and leadership in 5G,” said Claudia Nemat, CTO of Deutsche Telekom.

Vodafone Group Chief Technology Officer Johan Wibergh said: “We aim to open R&D labs for new, smaller suppliers to develop their products. But to do this we need a supportive investment environment and political backing, and we urge European governments to join us in creating the Open RAN ecosystem.”