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Vodafone seems way more sure Open RAN’s a good idea than Ericsson

Vodafone seems way more sure Open RAN’s a good idea than Ericsson

One step forward—but thankfully it’s never more than one step back with O-RAN.

A few months back, Vodafone surprised some of us by coming out pretty strong for Open RAN. That was in the shape of its director of network architecture telling TelecomTV that its Open RAN trials in urban areas were reaching a critical stage—and that those trials will pave the way for an RFQ process said to be "on track for 2024”.

Specifically, its Yago Tenorio told the site that, “Things are going well… I think that's important because once you get Open RAN into urban areas, and once you integrate massive MIMO into the system and you can demonstrate that it performs well, that’s an important milestone for proving the [overall] maturity of [an open radio access network].”

The news also seems to a) back up the operator’s claim that its Open RAN deployment is going well, b) that it met its promise to start trials in urban areas before the end of 2022 and beyond and c) that it will have 30% of Europe rolled out with Open RAN by 2030.

Well—we’ll have to see about the last bit. But Vodafone seems pretty convinced that once you get Open RAN into urban areas, integrate massive MIMO into the system and you can demonstrate that it performs well—you have busted an important marker for proving the maturity of the overall Open RAN approach.

Still moving in the right disaggregated way

Let’s quickly remind ourselves why we want such a thing as Open RAN. As the UK Government tells us, “Open RAN is the disaggregation of the radio access network into parts which are interconnected by open, standards-based, interoperable interfaces, using open, standards-based protocols for communicating over those interfaces.”

As a result, networks can be built from parts from different vendors—which would mean unprecedented opportunities for interoperability, more flexible, cost-effective, and innovative mobile network infrastructure, and new ways to offer services in remote areas—to name just a few.

Are we much closer to an innovative, multi-vendor, interoperable, and autonomous RAN ecosystem, with all the reduced cost, improved performance and greater agility market participants and innovators could take advantage of?

Last year, BT was, shall we say, not exactly cheerleading, and Ericsson was just accused of trying to thwart the whole thing (“The Swedish vendor was on a charm offensive at the Big 5G Event in Austin this week, desperate to silence critics who have long portrayed it as an enemy of open RAN.. yet is now publicly opposed to open fronthaul 7.2x, the existing specification touted by various open RAN players, and pushing an alternative system”).

But—and we know all about false Open RAN dawns!—things could finally be turning around. That same source (Dell’Oro) points out that the dip is more reflective if the state of the 5G rollouts than “a shift in the overall Open RAN/vRAN market sentiment”.

At the same time, Global Open RAN revenue increased by somewhere between 10 and 20 percent in the first three months of 2023, and the analyst sees Open RAN being up to 20% of Global RAN sales by 2027, which would be very healthy.

Wood for trees time. After some uncertainty and more than one setback, it really helps that a major operator is showing some confidence in the ability of O-RAN to deliver.

For sure this is a moving target, but this news is welcome. We anticipate further positive signs in the next 12 months.

Watch this space—or should we say, those good-old radio network functional entities.