IBM: The shift to Open RAN is ‘just a matter of time’

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The transition from the traditional radio access network (RAN) model to Open RAN (ORAN) is ‘just a matter of time’, despite resistance from equipment providers, IBM’s VP of Telco has said.

Speaking to TechRadar Pro at MWC 2022, Marisa Viveros was bullish about the prospects of a shift towards more open network architecture, even if the process will take time.

“Open RAN is still undergoing the maturation process, but it’s a very hot topic,” she said. “Today, operators might choose to have 20% ORAN and 80% traditional RAN, but as the standards improve, we expect ORAN to be deployed much more widely.”

IBM backs Open RAN

Historically, mobile operators have had to rely on a single equipment manufacturer to provide the antennas and other technologies that transmit data between cell sites and devices.

Although this system guarantees smooth interoperation across different elements of the RAN, it has served to increase costs for operators due to vendor lock-in and make it difficult to mix and match innovations from different providers.

The idea behind Open RAN, however, is to establish a vendor-neutral approach based on standards that allow for a variety of equipment from different manufacturers to be integrated into the same setup.

Naturally, equipment providers like Nokia and Ericsson would prefer that operators were required to rely exclusively on their equipment, creating a situation whereby the cost of switching provider becomes prohibitively high.

“The traditional network equipment providers will tend to recommend sticking with the closed system, because they say it’s easier to maintain and there is one company that has clear liability in the event of an issue,” Viveros explained.

“But in our industry, the tendency is towards disaggregation. The demand from operators means it’s just a matter of time before Open RAN succeeds.”

IBM’s telco division provides a wide range of software and services that help operators design, build, monitor and automate their networks. But in the context of Open RAN specifically, Viveros says the firm is working with ecosystem partners to establish an economical platform that ties together all the software components in an efficient way.

“Open RAN is about giving the telcos flexibility, choice and the ability to purchase at each layer from the best providers out there. We believe operators are looking for a company that can co-create with them and help define new services they can take to market.”

Joel Khalili
News and Features Editor

Joel Khalili is the News and Features Editor at TechRadar Pro, covering cybersecurity, data privacy, cloud, AI, blockchain, internet infrastructure, 5G, data storage and computing. He's responsible for curating our news content, as well as commissioning and producing features on the technologies that are transforming the way the world does business.