The arrival of Open Radio Access Network (ORAN) technology being deployed by mobile operators ultimately will lead to innovation as the equipment supplier ecosystem expands. While greenfield operators are deploying the solutions today, private networks could use the solution going forward. Nonetheless, traditional equipment suppliers continue to build out consumer-facing 5G networks.
A Connect (X): All Access Policy Summit panel discussion examined how 5G would work with ORAN. 2020 deployments were a proving ground for the technology, including Rakuten Mobile building the world’s first end-to-end virtualized cloud native mobile network, as well as DISH Networks in the United States announcing plans to incorporate the technology into its 5G standalone network, noted Sean Kinney, Editor in Chief at RCR Wireless News. Visit https://policysummit.connectivityexpo.com/ to watch all of the panels.
Rather than combining baseband and radio products in a proprietary solution, ORAN allows a mix-and-match solution from vendors. “The key word is innovation,” added Thierry Maupile, Executive Vice President, Strategy and Product Management at Altiostar, which provides 4G and 5G open virtualized (Open vRAN) software. The opportunity to aggregate the hardware and software in the mobile network creates an opportunity to leverage open interfaces and is bringing in new participants to the space. “Operators need more choice,” he continued.
The United States stands to gain from ORAN adoption, Maupile said. When the mobile network is more software-defined and cloud-defined, it opens the ecosystem to new companies and a wider range of companies. “The U.S. is strong in silicon, in software and in the cloud.”
Open RAN technology is an option for rural operators that have deployed Chinese telecommunications equipment and have funding available to them to install new networks, as well as private LTE networks, said RCR’s Kinney.
From a policy perspective, ORAN is an opportunity for the U.S. to lead in 5G, said Flynn Rico-Johnson, Legislative Director in the Office of Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif. “It’s about jobs and innovation that can happen. The United States was a leader in 4G technology and that meant better service for consumers, but it also opened up an entire ecosystem of jobs and innovation that has lasted for several years. We think there is an equal opportunity in 5G and the way open RAN solutions will be part of that,” according to Rico-Johnson. “The excitement and attention ORAN is receiving right now is a result of a lot of conversations taking place over time,” he added.
The Open RAN Policy Coalition is narrowly focused on educating Congress and other stakeholders on policy positions that would help ORAN gain traction, said Diane Rinaldo, its executive director. The coalition consists of 61 global technology companies to date.
While ORAN is featured as part of the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act, there still is not funding for the legislation, which is designed in part in reaction to Chinese vendor Huawei leading 5G global initiatives.
Beyond funding, two other pillars are public-private partnerships and working with international allies, Ronaldo said. The coalition has spoken with leadership from 26 countries to date to encourage them to adopt policies in both developed and developing countries to include ORAN technology not only for 5G networks but for 3G and 4G networks.
Developing policies that encourage investment in new technology like ORAN is important, Maupile noted, pointing out that the United States needs to be able to compete beyond its own border. 2021 is going to be an important year, Maupile said. Any time there is disruption it takes time for traditional players to adapt. Telefonica, for example, is inserting ORAN technology at scale in networks in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Brazil. ORAN is a new way of designing and managing the network as well as introduce automation into the network, he noted.