5 major European telcos urge fast action on Open RAN

In typical (rather formal and stiff) European style, five major telecom operators in Europe today issued a joint statement along with a report, calling on EU countries to make open radio access network (RAN) technology an urgent priority.

Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia (TIM), Telefónica and Vodafone made several recommendations for building an Open RAN ecosystem for Europe.

They recommend that the European Commission create a European Alliance on next-generation communications infrastructure, similar to how it has created alliances for cloud and semiconductors.

They want European leaders to participate in global standardization efforts of open RAN.

They warn that the EU needs to be proactive on open RAN to maintain its competitiveness and not fall behind North America and Asia in terms of next generation networks.

And, of course, they would also like if policymakers would establish funding and tax incentives along the entire open RAN value chain.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the open RAN movement has followed the typical (informal, seat-of-the pants) style of Americans. It is true that the government has become a big supporter of open RAN, but that’s primarily because it sees the technology as an alternative to Huawei equipment. The U.S. government is financing the replacement of Huawei equipment in telecom networks, and open RAN technology is being chosen by some operators. But there is no official government-run alliance or government-run standardization group. Everything is happening quickly and organically through open source groups and the free market.

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“Policy in the U.S. and Japan, among other countries, already strongly backs open RAN,” said Caroline Gabriel, research director at the analyst firm Analysys Mason. “The U.S. has earmarked more than $1.5 billion to fund open RAN, and Japan offers financial incentives and tax benefits for companies which develop, supply, and deploy related equipment. While there are some positive examples at national level, for example Germany, today, the European Union as a whole is falling woefully short of providing the necessary support for open RAN, putting at risk the future viability of a European ecosystem able to compete with other regions in the world.”

The group of five European operators also published a new report, based on findings from Analysys Mason, entitled “Building an Open RAN ecosystem for Europe.”

The report says that Europe has just 13 major open RAN players, versus 57 for the rest of the world. However, it’s unclear how the 13 vendors were deemed “major” as some of them aren’t names usually associated with open RAN.

  1. ARM
  2. Atos
  3. Canonical
  4. CapGemini
  5. Cellnex
  6. Ericsson
  7. Nokia
  8. NXP
  9. OVHcloud
  10. Reply
  11. Rohde&Schwarz
  12. Spirent
  13. SuSE

Of course, Europe is home to two of the world’s biggest telecom vendors: Ericsson and Nokia. And while these companies say they are on-board with open RAN, they also probably view the new technology as a threat. After all, one of the selling points of open RAN is that it will finally crack open the telecom vendor ecosystem and bring in innovative new start-ups. That’s not something incumbent vendors usually welcome.

RELATED: Nokia resumes work with O-RAN Alliance

It’s significant that five big telecom vendors are making this call to action. They have significant clout in the EU. And some of them, such as Vodafone, are already leaders in open RAN.

Johan Wibergh, Vodafone chief technology officer, said in a statement, “Open RAN will allow more European vendors to enter the ecosystem, accelerating innovation and stimulating competition. The reality is that open RAN is coming, whether Europe embraces a leadership position or not. Waiting will only widen the technology leadership gap, at a time when achieving competitiveness and resilience is key to Europe’s future success.”

Enrique Blanco, chief technology & information officer at Telefónica, said, “Open RAN is the natural evolution of radio access technologies, and it will be key for 5G networks. Telefónica believes the development of a healthy Open RAN ecosystem is essential to meet our target of 5G in the coming years.”