Open RAN architecture set to disrupt 5G landscape – report

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Openness comes to most proprietary technologies, because it is a time honored way of bringing down pricing in any given market. Whether Open RAN concepts emerge in the next 12 months or over the next four years, it will have the same effect.

There are a variety of candidate technologies lining up to Open the RAN, and operators and vendors alike are pulling in multiple directions – but one thing is certain, what emerges from the early years of 5G will change the shape of the cellular industry forever, with the big OEMs mostly hoping to take a traditional and proprietary approach, and operators insisting that they break up the RAN into separate open functions, where every vendor offering can interoperate with every other product. It is this that will re-introduce competition into the cellular market, driving down price points, which are in turn needed so operators can experiment with new business models.

A series of start-ups, exemplar operators and smaller existing equipment vendors are all pushing different varieties of open approaches to the 5G Radio Access Network (RAN).

But today a fully Open RAN platform is a long way off and there are many obstacles in its path, not least of which is the entrenched position and heavy R&D investment of the major OEMs. There are also risks seen by some operators of partnering with an immature and fragmented open solution. But the driver that makes open RAN irresistible is the need for a more competitive multi-vendor approach to drive down costs.

This report lays down a number of scenarios of how open systems will prise open the RAN market – with some adoption likely to some open APIs during 2020, and some scenarios not unfurling until deep into 2025.

In either case, much of the momentum will come from new classes of operators and vendor, addressing under-served areas including the indoor enterprise and industrial IoT.

And these greenfield initiatives will have the opportunity to build a more open, WiFi-like ecosystem based on the open specifications which are being driven aggressively by major operators, via organizations like Facebook TIP and the Linux Foundation-hosted ORAN Alliance.

As we say, the main reason is price. Rethink’s projected deployment cost of a 5G macro cell, shows pricing will fall by 50% from now until 2022 if it is built around an open architecture, whereas it will only fall 30% if it is built in the traditional way.

Ran Research found all this by interviewing 76 tier one operators about their detailed plans for RAN deployments to 2025, and focused in particular on the use of new or open architectures.

These operators say that the top drivers which push them towards open architectures in the RAN are total cost of ownership (TCO), driving price competition, an attempt to wrest control of the technology agenda from vendors, and the desire to access a wider base of innovation than just five major OEMs.

Rethink has laid out 4 distinctly different potential scenarios in detail, showing what will happen in certain architectures gain leadership at key times. 

A convergence of commercial imperatives will drive openness and interoperability. Some of these will mainly relate to pressures on the hard-pressed MNOs, to deliver 5G profitably; while others will relate to the new entrants which want to add mobile connectivity to their own business models in the enterprise or cloud.

For more information about this report please download the full Executive Summary.

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