What will it take for Open RAN to succeed and how far is it from mainstream adoption? A new report released today by CCS Insight, and sponsored by InterDigital, Inc. explores the reasons why Open RAN is generating excitement amongst various industry stakeholders and questions whether the mobile industry should temper its enthusiasm for a technology which has yet to prove itself. It examines the expectations of mobile carriers and network suppliers and brings into focus the political, commercial and technological tensions that will determine its long-term success.
The report, Open RAN: The Long Journey from Supporting Act to Lead Role, discusses the potential impact that Open RAN is set to have on the mobile industry, particularly as it promises to create a more open, flexible, and adaptable network. Many have high hopes for Open RAN, which sees the disaggregation of hardware and software solutions with open interfaces and APIs, and which leverages the adoption of commercial off-the-shelf hardware, leading to greater vendor interoperability.
“This report comes at a moment when telcos are preoccupied with the next stage of mobile network evolution, particularly as we move into the 5G era, and contemplate 6G,” said Henry Tirri, CTO, InterDigital. “It reflects the views of mobile carriers and infrastructure suppliers regarding the adoption of Open RAN, considers the motivating factors leading telcos to adopt, and offers a transparent appraisal of the challenges associated with such a large-scale transformation. This report delivers a thorough examination of what’s missing and what’s required to turn ambition into reality.”
The prospect for carriers looks promising, as they view its rise to prominence as an opportunity to dynamically manage network capacity and prioritize traffic – especially as 5G is set to support a wide range of revenue generating, mission critical applications. Many are finding ways to develop new and better features in support of the network performance capabilities needed to bring to fruition the potential of 5G networks. But Open RAN’s evolution isn’t free from challenges either.
The report uncovers several findings, including:
- Open RAN’s rapid rise is a reflection of mobile carriers’ desire to reduce their reliance on a small number of technology suppliers, and to improve the economics of network roll-outs
- Some critics point to the complexity involved in incorporating an unproven technology platform that could take years to establish standards and product maturity
- Some risk averse mobile operators remain reticent about moving away from buying fully integrated systems “off the shelf” from established suppliers
- Industry consensus suggests that greater cooperation between carriers and equipment suppliers is needed to identify and resolve the challenges associated with a more virtualized, intelligent, automated, and software driven network
- Attention needs to be paid to the role of standards, as a lack of open interoperability standards leaves little room for new RAN suppliers to diversify the RAN market
- The O-RAN Alliance and TIP are the two main bodies driving standardization in Open RAN, as they strive to create a level playing field for new entrants and design high level technical requirements (testing and validating network elements, products, and configurations)
- Cost remains a contentious part of the Open RAN debate with disagreement over whether the agility and flexibility brought by virtualization will lower costs, or if slower time to market and higher operating and maintenance costs will negatively impact the bottom-line
“Open RAN presents an opportunity to evolve and disrupt the vendor ecosystem, bringing fresh choice for operators and supporting the emergence of a host of new companies,” commented Kester Mann, Director of Consumer and Connectivity at CCS Insight and author of the report. “Yet the path ahead will not be entirely smooth; the technology is unproven at scale and there are questions over interoperability, pricing and security. Momentum is undeniable, but it may be several years before we see a tangible impact on the market.”
The report also notes that the exclusion of Chinese suppliers from many national 5G networks has politicized the Open RAN debate. The political landscape is clearly influencing the telecommunications industry, with the effect that many governments are actively supporting telcos with their Open RAN adoption. This is evident in the U.S. where telecommunications legislation has been introduced to promote the use of Open RAN.