Do operators really care about Open RAN?

Want to go radio ga-ga? Well step right this way as we look further into the Verizon Open RAN (O-RAN) announcement this week with Earl Lum of EJL Wireless Research.

Verizon said on Monday that it had deployed “over 130,000 O-RAN capable radios” on its network. The operator told us that the Radio Units (RUs) were all from Samsung Networks, but that it was also working with Ericsson on O-RAN.

Earl Lum, president of EJL Wireless had told us in December that Verizon was working with Ericsson and Samsung on O-RAN, following the $14 billion RAN deal between AT&T and Ericsson that month. Lum told us then that Verizon is doing their own internal version of open RAN by mixing and matching Ericsson and Samsung equipment. 

Lum expects to hear more about Ericsson’s O-RAN work at Mobile World Congress in a couple of weeks. “Ericsson will have its Open RAN compliant RUs first I believe before the massive MIMO AAUs [multiple input multiple output active antenna units] and we will learn more at MWC,” he said in an email.

Looking at the Samsung radios already deployed Lum said: “A typical VZW site would have 3 multi-band low band RUs to cover 700/800MHz and another 3 multi-band mid band RUs to cover the 1900/2100MHz band. So that is 6 radios on a macro site. That equals 21,667 macro sites out of ~65k ish in total.” 

“I don't know what the geo share is for Ericsson at VZW so maybe they have a 60/40 split there and not 50/50,” the analyst estimated. “That would mean Samsung is almost done with its share of the network. Also, my math doesn't account for any [distributed antenna system] related deployments at stadiums.”

The O-RAN revolution will not be televised

So with AT&T and Verizon taking up with O-RAN now, the demise of the specification has been greatly over exaggerated. The dream of a multi-vendor O-RAN with masses of small companies supplying the large carriers, however, also seems to be largely dead in the water.

AT&T is using a single vendor to deploy O-RAN, Verizon is using two vendors. As Lum noted, established operators are not going to add multiple radio vendors to the mix just because they supply O-RAN.

“My closing statement is who cares if it is Open RAN or not?” he stated. “VZW isn't going to all of a sudden get 5 new radio vendors because the radios are Open RAN compliant. That doesn't make operational sense.”

You can hear a lot more about the Open RAN "squid game" as Lum and neXt Curve analyst Leonard Lee discuss it, the MWC research agenda and more on their latest podcast.