Open RAN Experts: Not quite ready for prime time

Open RAN works, but the strongest supporters are clear it has a way to go. CTO Tareq Amin of Rakuten, with the most advanced deployment in the world, had to spend “hundreds of millions” on custom chips to get the performance he needs. My unofficial numbers are custom chip cost wiped out all the initial savings. Rakuten hasn’t turned on 5G yet.

Please don’t misread me as an opponent of Open RAN. It is probably the right choice for a new network today and will play a growing role in the future. But there are problems that must be solved.

Santiago Tenorio, Vodafone Group’s Head of Network Strategy & Architecture and Chairman of Telecom Infra Project (TIP), is one of the most enthusiastic supporters and has four field trials underway. Tenorio says

The big suppliers currently have the TCO upper hand. The traditional vendors have decades of experience, have thousands of employees, and are able to decide what would work better for operators. If you’re going to deploy [OpenRAN] in say, 25 sites, you may get better commercial conditions from incumbents.

There are numerous industry challenges if operators are to reap the promised open RAN benefits of a “richer ecosystem” and lower total cost of ownership (TCO). … We haven’t even scratched the surface of system integration challenges. There are one million different ways in which you can actually build a product that satisfies O-RAN specifications.

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