Nokia keeping its options open as days of automation dawn

Nokia is not a member of the operator-driven group O-RAN Alliance, but it is supportive of the group’s efforts and will continue to contribute to open initiatives where it makes sense.

The alliance was announced at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018 back in February, with AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DoCoMo and Orange as co-founders. Last week, the O-RAN board held its first meeting during MWC Shanghai 2018, where seven new members were approved, including Bharti Airtel, China Telecom, KT, Singtel, SK telecom, Telefonica and Telstra.

“We are very supportive,” Jane Rygaard, head of 5G marketing at Nokia, told FierceWirelessTech. “We’re looking forward” to working with the operators.

The O-RAN Alliance was announced as the result of the xRAN Forum merging with the C-RAN Alliance to form a worldwide, carrier-led effort to drive new levels of openness in the radio access network of next-generation wireless systems. Verizon is a member of the xRAN Forum, but it’s missing from the carriers in the current O-RAN Alliance. A Verizon spokesperson said that’s because it’s waiting to see final governance documents from the organization.

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It’s not clear if the O-RAN Alliance will open its membership to vendors, but as always, the devil is in the details when it comes to an organization’s governance. Prior to joining xRAN, Nokia was able to get the IPR policy modified to ensure that it could continue to monetize its IPR; that protection was a prerequisite for it joining xRAN.

Of course, there are a lot of open initiatives currently underway in the industry. Cisco is leading a multivendor ecosystem aimed at addressing issues around the adoption of Open vRAN solutions, and Facebook has been leading the Telecom Infra Project (TIP). Other initiatives are happening within the open source community and the Linux Foundation, and Nokia is involved in a lot of these as well.

Rygaard acknowledged there are a lot of open initiatives and it’s important that the industry not spread itself too thin. But it’s Nokia’s plan to continue to contribute and make sure the right architecture gets supported. If there are 25 different ways to design the architecture, the economics won’t pencil out and it will end up being more expensive, so it needs to be manageable.

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Rival Ericsson is not embracing openness to the extent that Nokia is; it has said it is in continuous contact with its operator customers and other stakeholders to make sure it’s making the right products that make operators successful in their markets. But Rygaard said it’s not about gaining a competitive advantage.

It’s also imperative that the industry get it right, because in order to achieve automation—including the kind the industry is talking about in 5G—it will need efficiencies and flexibility.

“I think it’s clear that we as an industry need to embrace openness, because without it, we’re not going to get the right time to market, we’re not going to get the flexibility and we’re not going to get the opportunities,” she said. “It’s something we have to do.”