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Telcos adopting OpenRAN tech to cut network costs

India’s top telcos-Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio-are expanding their telecom gear supplier options beyond traditional equipment vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei and ZTE by adopting what is called Open Radio Access Networks (OpenRAN) technology.The future of Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE in India hanging in the balance, and a dependence on only the two other suppliers will increase costs.

OpenRAN as a concept enables hardware and software to be dis-aggregated, unlike conventional radio gears, allowing technology products from different suppliers to coexist with the various software providers. This move would also help telcos cut network-related costs and bring more customization as they prepare for 5G, say experts.

“They [OpenRAN vendors] can bring in efficiencies and help solve many problems, which may not be left to a single provider to solve,” Randeep Sekhon, chief technology officer at Bharti Airtel, told ET.

Vodafone Idea has already done OpenRAN-based commercial deployment of 4G TDD LTE and massive Mimo sites in various cities. “We have been engaged in OpenRAN for three years and we intend to further enhance the deployment into our network,” Vishant Vora, chief technology officer at Vodafone Idea, told ET.

He added that the OpenRAN phenomenon will help in expanding the telecom gear suppliers’ ecosystem, allowing telecom operators to reach out directly to the manufacturers and achieve cost efficiencies. “These suppliers can be introduced in the markets where coverage and capacity expansions are demanded… concepts like these are a precursor to 5G deployment.”

Currently, Vodafone Idea and Airtel source equipment from Ericsson, Nokia, ZTE and Huawei, while Jio works only with Samsung.

Analysts believe that OpenRAN technology wouldn’t eliminate traditional vendors from 4G and 5G space but would rather force them to shift their business model from hardware to software.

OpenRAN is compatible with 2G, 3G and 4G services, with 5G expected in the future, and allows more customization of the network architecture and capabilities creating opportunities for new business lines and improving customer experience, they added.

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