Open RAN vendors are racing to catch up with incumbent Single radio access network (SRAN) vendors when it comes to providing a complete, comprehensive offer. Going forward, Open RAN will be one of the foundations for building RAN, and as such, the new mainstream. It is poised to capture the growth of the market in terms of new deployments and older deployments where the life cycle comes to an end.
Open RAN disaggregates the RAN technically; but the fundamentally bigger impact is what this disaggregation offers when it comes to choice on the supply side. The new normal going forward will be decoupling a network build from a single vendor’s roadmap to the combined power of multiple vendors. Not only does this promise the earliest possible access to technology, but also it enables supply chain diversity and reduces the risk of regrettable CAPEX spend.
Swapping 2G/3G/4G/5G suppliers will no longer necessarily require replacing radio and baseband in lengthy swap programs; one replaces the components that need to be replaced, not all the components.
With increased maturity and with awards of contracts there will be winners emerging while others will be disappearing. The traditional RAN market went down from eight to three to four players, and now two in some markets, in two decades. The pressure of unbundling the RAN and removing entry barriers will effect not only the mobile network operator (MNO), but also the incumbent vendors that can no longer cross subsidize different parts of the offer.
Will the remaining traditional vendors join us? Definitely, they will, but maybe not happily. Game-on!
The main driver for mass deployment of Open RAN
Open RAN makes the market more of an open book. Industry control points are eroded and best in class starts applying to individual components to build the RAN. There is a need to encourage alternative suppliers in markets where the traditional vendors have been reduced to a duopoly. However, it is a big change going from managing one Single RAN vendor to a herd of Open RAN vendors. Is the world ready for it? We probably have not seen the final model of this and different MNOs will try different approaches.
The emerging technology transformers such as cloud, virtual, digital, software and open source are here to deliver cost savings. Open RAN will unravel the true costs of delivering the solution and it is likely that pricing models need to change as cross subsidizing becomes harder. In the end, it will come down to whether Open RAN can deliver cost savings end-to-end. This is the only measurement of success for the mobile network operators and for the end users in the form of charge per service.
What makes Open RAN a mainstream mobile network technology in the years coming?
Open is the best way to ensure new innovation can benefit the users and the networks. With openness, there is less risk of high-value, not-yet-invented items being blocked from entering the market. The market has been controlled by a few players for a long time and has remained stuck in the existing model. Technically, there has been leaders driving technical innovation — quite successfully, I may add — but maybe not so much in terms of business practices and industry structure. Unlocking interfaces, business practices and spectrum will open the door for more fundamental rethinks of what this business should look like.
Taking a step out from the traditional macro deployments, Open RAN enables new models of deployment, new actors and market growth, attracting new capital to be invested in dedicated coverage. The in-building coverage market and private networking market have a lot to gain from Open RAN, where downscales macro solution carries complexity and overhead. Open RAN solutions are built from the ground up on virtualization, offering simplicity and low entry-level costs. A fresh piece of software (SW) made specifically for indoor and private networks will be easier to configure and manage.
Wi-Fi, another arm of wireless access, is far more open to innovation based on spectrum access. Wi-Fi also has lower technical entry barriers, even as mobile networks are being rolled out, gobbling up a magnitude more traffic based on need and decentralized investment decisions. We could see a new surge of investments in coverage and capacity based on opening the mobile networking model.