Verizon gives some love to open RAN, marks 130K O-RAN capable radios

Verizon isn’t handing the open RAN keys to a single vendor, as AT&T did with Ericsson. But it is making sure everyone is aware of Verizon’s commitment to open RAN – to the tune of 130,000 open RAN capable radios.

Verizon announced today that it has deployed more than 130,000 O-RAN capable radios, a figure that includes the Massive MIMO radios that are part of the previously announced 15,000 O-RAN compliant, virtualized cell sites in its commercial Radio Access Network.

“Verizon is fully supportive of O-RAN technology and is focused on commercializing an operationally sound O-RAN architecture,” said Adam Koeppe, SVP of Technology Planning at Verizon, in a statement. “Our commitment to developing O-RAN standards and to deploying compliant equipment in our active Radio Access Network is helping to drive the industry forward which will result in a variety of tangible benefits for our customers who expect leading-edge technology from Verizon.”

A couple years ago, Verizon announced it had deployed more than 8,000 virtualized radio access network (vRAN) cell sites, with a goal of deploying over 20,000 by the end of 2025.

The idea behind open RAN is to get rid of the old “vendor lock-in” and create an ecosystem where interfaces are interoperable between different hardware and software components. In other words, it’s expanding beyond a world dominated by single-system vendors like Ericsson and Nokia.

That said, AT&T made waves last year when it struck a five-year contract worth up to $14  billion with Ericsson and a plan for 70% of its wireless network traffic to move across open-capable platforms by late 2026.   

Verizon doesn’t appear to be doing anything like that, and while its press release today did not name any vendors, it references equipment that was provided primarily by Samsung. A spokesperson did not elaborate on any other vendors, except to point out that the benefit of open RAN is to ensure open interfaces for multi-vendor integration. The message being: more to come in that space.

What analysts are saying   

Verizon’s announcement today refers to radio equipment that already has been deployed, confirming what was already known, said Joe Madden, chief analyst at Mobile Experts.

Dell’Oro Group analyst Stefan Pongratz echoed that sentiment, adding that Dell’Oro recently adjusted its five-year open RAN forecast upward to reflect the improved pipeline in the U.S.

Verizon’s announcement “further validates the assumption that North America is expected to lead the open RAN movement over the near-term,” Pongratz said.

Step-by-step journey

Verizon shared some impressive numbers: 15,000 vRAN sites and 130,000 total radio units have been deployed with “forward compatibility” to O-RAN standards. That’s most, if not all, of the Verizon deployment over the past two years, Madden said.

He noted that for the past few years, Verizon has required their equipment to be compatible with open RAN fronthaul and software standards. While some of the standards haven’t been written yet, the vendors promised to keep the equipment in the field compatible with emerging standards through software upgrades.

“Transforming a network from proprietary hardware to open standards is a long step-by-step journey. O-RAN has not made a big difference in the Verizon network yet, but Verizon is making strides by establishing flexibility in the infrastructure, so that they can implement vRAN and O-RAN upgrades to the network in the future,” Madden told Fierce.