Rakuten Symphony is just one of a number of big names sounding the horn for open networking as Mobile World Congress 2024 gets underway.

Mary Lennighan

February 26, 2024

4 Min Read

The Japanese network solutions provider and Open RAN specialist on Monday launched its Real Open RAN Licensing Program, which it describes as "a ground-breaking initiative designed to democratize Radio Access Network (RAN) technology worldwide."

The scheme operates on an open community subscription model, Rakuten explained, providing commercial access to its Open RAN CU and DU software – that's Central Unit and Distributed Unit. It has already rolled this out for Rakuten Mobile in Japan, where it claims nationwide coverage, and is in the process of doing the same in Germany, for mobile market newcomer 1&1.

The licensing initiative will reduce barriers to entry and shorten time-to-market, the firm said. Essentially, it is looking to simplify access to these key software elements in the Open RAN space and thereby foster wider deployment more quickly.

"This is more than an initiative; it's a call to action for the industry to embrace open collaboration and innovation, paving the way for better, more efficient telecom outcomes," said Rakuten Group Chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani.

Rakuten Symphony has a more vested interest than most in pushing the Open RAN agenda, the technology being core to its very existence. Nonetheless, it's hard to argue with anything that speeds up progress; commercial Open RAN rollouts are becoming more frequent, but the technology is hardly mainstream yet.

That said, signs are positive.

Ericsson on Monday revealed that AT&T has switched on its Cloud RAN technology in a commercial 5G network, the first sites being live in the telco's home state, Texas.

"This is the next milestone in AT&T's Open RAN journey," said Chris Sambar, Head of Network at AT&T. "By moving traffic to cloud RAN sites, we're accelerating our c-band deployment and continuing to virtualize our network. The open network future is coming fast and we're looking forward to seeing the innovation that it brings for our customers."

The speed of arrival of open networking is still up for debate. But the market is certainly moving forward in North America.

Earlier this month Telus revealed that it will deploy what it claims is the Canada's first commercial virtualised and open RAN in conjunction with Samsung. The build-out is due to get underway in the first half of the this year, with large-scale network rollout set to kick off from mid-year.

While Samsung is clearly the lead vendor, supplying as it will vRAN software and Open RAN compliant solutions, including its 64T64R Massive MIMO radios, and support for third-party radio integration, Telus also namechecked other vendors, as you would expect with an Open RAN announcement. Cloud infrastructure will be provided by Wind River, it said, while the deployment will also use servers from Hewlett Packard Enterprise powered by Intel Xeon processors.

At MWC HPE made an announcement of its own about that Canadian deployment. It didn't have a lot of any substance to add, other than a comment from Telus about how HPE's solution meets performance requirements while also reducing power consumption. That performance/power balance will be a key topic for discussion at Congress and beyond, particularly given the industry is now looking beyond 5G to 6G mobile.

Samsung also used the Telus rollout in its litany of MWC announcements, alongside a handful of others, including last week's news that it is behind Vodafone's 20-site Open RAN deployment in Romania, again working alongside Wind River, but with Dell providing the servers. It also reminded us of another recent announcement in which it disclosed that to date it has deployed 38,000 O-RAN compliant vRAN commercial sites worldwide. It's all progress, but the numbers remain relatively small.

The Korean vendor's big Open RAN announcement at Congress was the completion of the industry's first end-to-end call in a lab environment with a future Intel Xeon processor (codenamed Granite Rapids-D), on a virtualized Open RAN network powered by Samsung's vRAN 3.0.

"During the test, Samsung achieved significant gains as well as reduced power consumption," the vendor said, without really elaborating.

Technical progress is, of course, key to furthering Open RAN development and fostering wider deployments, as are initiatives like Rakuten's that should make the whole process simpler for those willing to take the plunge. But it would be nice to see the operator uptake statistics creeping up a little faster.

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MWC 2024

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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