Leading tech firms call for governments to support OpenRAN 5G development

(Image credit: Vodafone)

Thirty-one of the world’s leading technology companies have signed up as founding members of a new organisation that will lobby governments to adopt polices that promote the development of open and interoperable radio access network (RAN) innovations.

Traditional methods of procurement have seen operators deploy integrated cell sites comprising radio, hardware, and software from a single supplier. This approach makes it difficult to mix and match innovations and poses a significant barrier to entry for other vendors.

However the 5G era has increased the appetite for a more flexible model, with operators rearchitecting their networks with cloud and software-defined networking (SDN) so they can be more agile in terms of operations and in rolling out new services.

OpenRAN 5G

The OpenRAN Group Project, formed in 2017 under the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) umbrella, develops radio standards and technologies based on vendor-neutral hardware and software-defined innovations that are open and interoperable.

This could, in theory, reduce the dominance of the big three vendors and make the market more competitive and innovative while  reducing the cost of deployment. Supporters of OpenRAN also argue that because operators will have a greater choice of suppliers, they will be able to resolve network issues or redirect resources more rapidly because they won’t be tied to a particular vendor.

The formation of the Open RAN Policy Coalition is an acknowledgement that more needs to be done for OpenRAN to catch up with existing players in terms of performance, cost and industrialisation. The organisation will urge governments to provide funding and incentives for research and development and testing, arguing that better connectivity will benefit consumers and businesses.

“As evidenced by the current global pandemic, vendor choice and flexibility in next-generation network deployments are necessary from a security and performance standpoint,” said Diane Rinaldo, Executive Director, Open RAN Policy Coalition.  “By promoting policies that standardize and develop open interfaces, we can ensure interoperability and security across different players and potentially lower the barrier to entry for new innovators.”

Founding members include tech companies at all stages of the networking ecosystem, including AT&T, Amazon Web Services, Cisco, Dell, Facebook, Google, IBM, Intel, Juniper Networks, Microsoft, Oracle, Qualcomm, Rakuten, Samsung, Telefonica, Verizon and VMware.

Vodafone has held trials of OpenRAN in the UK and says the technology should be included in government’s industrial strategies.

“The lack of supplier diversity for network equipment lies at the heart of the concerns over the resilience and security of critical national infrastructure,” said John Wibergh, Vodafone Group CTO.

“Vodafone is focused on expanding our supply chain options through engaging with open RAN vendors and encouraging newer network providers, to ensure the optimal balance across suppliers. Our industry leading trials of open RAN have underlined that this is the most promising route to advance niche suppliers, to supplement the large vendors, especially for radio equipment and software.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.