Four of Europe’s leading mobile operator groups have teamed up to accelerate the development and deployment of Open RAN technologies across the continent.
Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica, and Vodafone have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) outlining their commitment to create a framework for the creation of a European Open RAN ecosystem.
By working together, the four groups hope to stimulate the market and also encourage support from European governments and the EU. Specifically, they want governments to help fund developments R&D and testing and to incentivise supply chain diversity by lowering the barriers to entry.
The Radio Access Network (RAN) market has traditionally been dominated by a few major players who offer highly integrated cell sites comprising radio, hardware, and software. This approach has made it difficult for operators to mix and match innovations and has proved to be a significant barrier to entry for smaller vendors.
Open RAN is a vendor-neutral approach with standardised designs that allow a variety of firms to supply hardware and software. Operators believe this can increase innovation, reduce costs, and reduce dependency on the ‘big three’ of Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia.
The UK in particular has taken a key interest in Open RAN technology, believing it can help mitigate any negative impacts caused by the decision to exclude Huawei from the rollout of 5G. Vodafone switched on the UK’s first live Open RAN site in the UK last year and plans to upgrade 2,600 sites with open radio technologies by 2027 as it continues to strip Huawei gear out of its network. O2, which is owned by Telefonica, has also staged trials of Open RAN.
Analysts believe the market for Open RAN technologies will reach $5 billion within five years, and it’s not just new players getting involved. Nokia and Ericsson have both joined the O-RAN Alliance, one of several open RAN organisations, which has a Alliance’s 170-strong membership of operators, vendors and research institutions. In 2020, the O-RAN Alliance agreed a partnership with mobile industry body, the GSMA.