When will Open RAN properly hit the market?

10 Aug 2023

Image: © javiemebravo/Stock.adobe.com

Certain telecoms companies are showing strong support for Open RAN technology, but research suggests the market won’t start to really grow until after 2025.

The concept of open radio access networks (Open RAN) has been hailed for years as a potential gamechanger in the telecoms sector, though it is taking a long time to come to fruition.

Open RAN differs from traditional radio access networks by allowing different parts of the network’s infrastructure to be built by different vendors. Supporters claim these networks will break down barriers to entry in the telecoms sector, increasing the amount of competition and lowering costs as a result.

Many companies have claimed to support the development of open networks, with many big names in the telecoms sector being members of the O-Ran Alliance, an organisation that pushes the development of this technology. Members include Vodafone, Telefonica, Verizon, Orange and AT&T.

Initiatives have taken place in Ireland to support the growth of this technology. Earlier this year, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre Connect revealed it is working with industry leaders to develop open radio access networks.

But research suggests the uptake in this market is starting to slow down. A report from the Dell’Oro Group claims Open RAN revenues hit a downward trajectory recently, following three years of these revenues accelerating at a “significantly faster pace than expected”.

This report also suggests that adoption of Open RAN has been “mixed” across greenfield and brownfield operators – newer and older networks, respectively.

Dell’Oro VP and analyst Stefan Pongratz said the journey of “re-shaping” RAN technology was never expected to be smooth and “many challenges remain”.

“Even so, our long-term position has not changed,” Pongratz said. “We continue to believe that Open RAN is here to stay, and the growing support by the incumbent suppliers bolsters this thesis.”

When will the market grow?

Other research suggests this market will get a big opportunity to surge later in the decade, thanks to changes in existing contracts.

A report from Rethink Technology Research estimates Open RAN deployments will ramp up to $19.2bn by 2030.

The report also suggests the deployments in public 5G networks will accelerate after 2025, as many mobile operators will enter new contracts and interface standards will become “mature enough for rigorous interoperability testing”.

“Migration to Open RAN will not occur as a single decisive step for many operators, but through a series of iterations with only the end game being to deploy the whole stack and open it up to multiple vendors,” the report said. “The great majority of early Open RAN deployments are or will be single vendor and only embrace some of the interfaces.”

The report also claims most early adopters of this technology are greenfield sites.

Supporters and skeptics

The Rethink report said Dish Network is a “strong early Open RAN adopter” in the US, due to the fact it is building a new 5G network, which removes some of the risks that exist for adopting Open RAN into legacy networks.

In Europe, the report said Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom appear to be the most “evangelistic” about open networks out of the region’s five biggest telcos. Vodafone has made a number of partnerships in recent years to push the development of these radio networks.

In 2021, Vodafone partnered with Dell Technologies to work on the first Open RAN deployment in Europe. The company successfully launched an Open RAN site in the UK in 2022 and has partnered with Samsung to launch new open network initiatives in Germany and Spain.

Earlier this year, Deutsche Telekom said it has partnered with Nokia and Fujitsu to develop a commercial Open RAN option in Germany. Deutsche Telekom group CTO Abdu Mudesir said the technology has matured “in both stability and performance”.

“We will use our collaboration as the springboard to accelerate Open RAN development and create a path to deployment at scale,” Mudesir said.

Other telecom companies are a bit more apprehensive about the current technology these networks use, however. The head of Fujitsu’s mobile business unit said the architecture struggles to compete against the legacy gear of bigger vendors, Light Reading reports.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic