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March 3, 2023
Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Kelvin Chaffer, CEO of Lifecycle Software, describes the industry opportunity presented by Open RAN.
According to multiple industry experts, Open Radio Access Network – Open RAN, or ORAN – is a game-changing ecosystem that will provide a more diverse choice of RAN vendors for mobile network providers. With the Open RAN market expected to surpass $32 billion by 2030 at a 42% growth rate, its adoption is growing rapidly, reducing the costs of implementing its infrastructure while lowering the barrier to entry for new product innovation.
The question is, how can new vendors capitalise on the emergence of this network to truly bring out untapped innovation and potential? To answer this, it’s first imperative to understand what Open RAN is, what challenges and opportunities it holds for RAN vendors and how it impacts the further development of 5G.
Open RAN is defined as a network where ‘disaggregated components are connected via open interfaces and optimised by intelligent controllers’, allowing for multiple vendors to interact with each other via defined interfaces.
With the world rapidly switching to 5G applications, many communication service providers (CSPs) are looking to expand their infrastructures to the Edge and create a broader ecosystem of RAN vendors to help find new and innovative revenue opportunities. New technology products such as Open RAN provide CSPS with a unique opportunity to have flexibility in deploying an open infrastructure and, as a result, support future growth for future technologies.
Taking advantage of Open RAN
Open RAN represents an exciting playing field for many telcos, transitioning from a static and vertical infrastructure into a dynamic horizontal one. In emerging areas, where Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) is low, and operators struggle to generate good Return on Investment (ROI), Open RAN is particularly appealing. In certain places, it can assist with integrating several generations of technology while enabling Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to avoid vendor lock-in and maximise their current network investments.
In other words, Open RAN has the potential to allow operators to reduce their reliance on a single vendor for the components of their wireless networks – giving operators more flexibility and the potential to reduce costs by not being tied to a single vendor’s products and pricing. It would also allow them to incorporate new technologies and innovations into their networks with more ease, especially since Open RAN requires fewer hardware integrations.
As Open RAN’s growth accelerates in the industry, CSPs can take advantage of the openness and interoperability of this technology to create and adapt solutions that are compatible with a wide range of hardware and software platforms, allowing operators to reach a broader market and potentially increase their revenues.
Overcoming Open RAN challenges
Despite its benefits and opportunities, it is no surprise that the utilisation of Open RAN is yet to be globally accepted. While the model might be attractive for some organisations, it requires heavy investments in new hardware and software. This could generate significant upfront costs, which could be a barrier for some operators, especially smaller ones with limited resources. Moreover, operators may need to train their staff to use and manage Open RAN technology, which could add to the cost and complexity of implementing it.
Deploying a vast and open network can be difficult to manage, especially when ensuring high levels of connectivity for end users. Moreover, there is always the potential for compatibility issues between different vendors’ hardware and software. With Open RAN allowing for the use of multiple vendors and technologies in a single network, operators may need to carefully plan and manage their deployments to ensure smooth operations and avoid technical problems. This could require a higher level of expertise and coordination than the traditional, single-vendor networks, which circles back to the higher costs issues.
Finally, using Open RAN may also introduce security concerns, as it potentially opens operators’ networks to a wider range of hardware and software components, each of which may have its own vulnerabilities. With an increasing number of telcos disconnecting their legacy networks and deploying 5G faster than ever, security needs to step up too. With more solution providers opting to host their 5G networks on the public cloud, the increase in entry points becomes risky and requires additional layers of security. Moreover, multi-vendor testing will be essential for network assurance. Operators will need to carefully assess and manage these risks to ensure the security and reliability of their networks.
We’ve already seen some significant steps made toward the Open RAN model in the past seven years, as the market begins to embrace open infrastructure. For example, in 2022, the UK government released a set of Open RAN Principles to encourage innovation and collaboration within the industry. With Open RAN offering mobile operators more flexibility to upgrade their networks and launch new services, therefore delivering coverage at a reduced cost, many traditional RAN players will start feeling the pressure.
As telcos continue transitioning to 5G networks, Open RAN will make it even more frictionless to support 5G applications such as network slicing and over-the-air hardware upgrades. Therefore, CSPs can upgrade their networks and create new ways to monetise their services. However, it’s important to remember that, as with any open-source technology, building Open RAN will also require collaboration and knowledge-sharing between leading tech vendors across the industry. Only then can this technology reach its true potential and work for the benefit of all.
Kelvin Chaffer is Chief Executive Officer at Lifecycle Software. With a software engineering background and an ever-growing passion for technology, Kelvin is known for driving growth and innovation in the product portfolio. Kelvin has worked at Lifecycle for 20 years using his positive attitude and tireless energy to inspire and lead Lifecycle’s R&D.
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