DTW: IGNITE, COPENHAGEN, DENMARK – AT&T really wants you to know that its $14 billion deal with Ericsson isn’t what it looks like. Or rather, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Many have viewed the deal as just another in a long line of single vendor contracts – only this time with some open radio access network (RAN) branding slapped on top. But AT&T SVP and Network CTO Yigal Elbaz told Fierce that’s not the case at all.

“Yes, the announcement was with Ericsson and one would think that we moved from two vendors to one vendor,” he said in an interview at DTW. “Actually, we are moving into a multi-vendor platform.”

Elbaz said the company is pushing toward a future where it begins introducing third-party RAN kit from even more vendors, adding we can expect to hear more about that later this year. Asked how many vendors it expects to incorporate, Elbaz said AT&T plans to start with a “very low number,” with third party radios deployed only in certain areas of the network.

But over time, the number of third party vendors could climb, he said. It all depends on what the operator’s needs are and what it is trying to accomplish.

Elbaz declined to name the third party vendors it plans to work with. But AT&T previously said it was aiming to scale its open RAN deployments in collaboration with multiple vendors, including Corning, Dell Technologies, Ericsson and Fujitsu in 2025. The latter two obviously offer radio access network equipment, and earlier this year Dell inked a deal with Ericsson to collaborate on the development of open RAN solutions for operators.  

In February, AT&T also joined hands with Verizon to form the Acceleration of Compatibility and Commercialization for Open RAN Deployments Consortium (ACCoRD), which includes RAN vendors Mavenir, Radisys and Intel, among others. These are likely among the contenders that will factor into AT&T’s network.

Elbaz told Fierce the introduction of third party gear is one of four major KPIs it is tracking as part of its open RAN rollout.

The others include a previously stated goal to carry 70% of its traffic via open RAN gear by 2026; finishing its transition to a cloud RAN architecture; and ensuring the ability to run one management later for all its open RAN gear regardless of who it is working with.


While AT&T may think it’s on the path to a multi-vendor future,  AvidThink’s Roy Chua said the operator’s deal with Ericsson – and Vodafone’s earlier agreement with Nokia – sends a mixed message to startups eyeing the space.

“As a startup that’s starting to play in open RAN, you’re like ‘wait, you just dis-incentivized me’ because they’re still going with legacy vendors. It’s basically a single vendor open RAN stack,” he told Fierce.

He continued: “Over time we’ll probably get there, but right now there are really no incentives for start ups to go in. And when carriers take so long to make a decision – that’s why in Silicon Valley when the venture capitalist sees that your market is the telcos, they walk away right away.”

Glimpse of the future network

Elbaz said AT&T isn’t doing open RAN for open RAN’s sake. Instead, openness will become the foundation of its future network, enabling things like automation and a CI/CD mindset.

“We [also] have a multi-vendor standalone core environment. All of a sudden, we can have a conversation about how do we have all of our vendors integrating into the same CI/CD pipeline,” he said. “We’re converging worlds, IT and network.”

And the ability to achieve the industry’s North Star goal of fully autonomous networks depends on this, on the networks becoming fully open and fully composable, he said.

“If you want to do something automated, that means that someone is taking an action on your behalf, that means that can interact with the underlying things that you want to automate. So some level of openness, API integration that allows you to take the action [is required],” Elbaz explained.

The hitch is that it’s very hard to force openness into legacy networks, Elbaz added. Thus, we can expect it will take “several more years” of work.

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