OpenRAN gains further momentum with Vodafone, MTN push

OpenRAN gains further momentum with Vodafone, MTN push
Recently, Vodafone surprised the telecoms industry by announcing that it is thinking about shifting its entire European mobile sites to Open Radio Access Network (OpenRAN) technology. MTN has also announced a new partnership with Parallel Wireless to deploy 5,000 OpenRAN sites in Africa. Is this the spark OpenRAN needs to succeed?

In a move that may have significant reverberations across the telecoms industry, Vodafone has just announced that the company is putting up its entire European footprint, which comprises of 100,000 mobile sites, for a possible redesign based on OpenRAN. The company is also set to issue a 5G tender which will include traditional suppliers as well as OpenRAN vendors.

Last month, Vodafone became the first telco in the UK to start OpenRAN trials. With the company now mulling over a much larger overhaul of its European infrastructure with OpenRAN, it underlines the strategic importance of the nascent network technology for the telco. Interestingly, the shift towards OpenRAN coincides with Vodafone’s 5G roll-out in Europe.

And Vodafone isn’t the only major telco putting its weight behind OpenRAN. African telecoms giant MTN has partnered with Parallel Wireless to deploy 5,000 OpenRAN sites across its network in Africa. While MTN is not entirely new to OpenRAN, having conducted field trials in Zambia last year, the current move is a larger push allowing the company to deliver 2G, 3G and 4G connectivity simultaneously by targeting currently unconnected areas.

Until now, RAN infrastructure has been tied to big-ticket individual vendors. OpenRAN technology, however, gives telcos greater flexibility and cost savings by allowing them to mix and match RAN equipment from any vendor. Lack of supplier choice has been a long-standing problem in the telco industry and the US campaign against Huawei has further restricted the market.

Now, with the explicit endorsements from Vodafone and MTN, OpenRAN may finally get a chance to thrive in the industry. While telcos have been traditionally loath to change, Vodafone and MTN’s move may finally force other telcos to take note of OpenRAN and seek opportunities to incorporate the technology within their networks too.

It will also be interesting to see how the trend of OpenRAN adoption plays out in the short-to-medium term. While OpenRAN has its roots in seeing more competitors in network infrastructure and reducing the dominance of a select few, the increased complexity in the RAN and core required to fuel 5G ecosystems will ironically make it more difficult for newer tech players to catch up with the incumbents. However, with tech giants like Samsung entering the fray, the battle will be one to watch out for!