LIVE FROM FYUZ22, MADRID: Operators and vendors tackled the underlying challenges of open RAN on day one of the Telecom Infra Project’s (TIP) FYUZ22 event, chief among which was the need for competitors to work together to achieve the full benefits of the approach.

A series of keynote and panel sessions saw experts from a range of leading global operators and vendors highlight the changes open RAN was bringing to the overall competitive landscape, pitching companies which are typically rivals into cooperation.

The joining of hands was illustrated in the opening keynote, which TIP chair Santiago Tenorio noted featured an uncommon joint appearance with O-RAN Alliance counterpart Alex Choi.

“I think that sends a very clear message on why we are here today and also how the telecom industry is changing”.

Choi concurred, crediting his predecessor Andre Fuetsch for building the O-RAN Alliance into a “well-respected” group which was now working with TIP to change the “paradigm of the access network”.

He stated the open RAN ecosystem today comprised “more than 330 companies and institutions from across the world”, with recent adoption of specifications covering open fronthaul by European standards group ETSI “a very important milestone”.

Operator challenges
The importance of adoption by standards groups was borne out during an operator panel session in which executives from NTT Docomo, Orange, Telefonica, Vodafone Group and Omantel highlighted challenges for open RAN including integration and security.

Sherif R Sherif, senior technology strategist with Omantel, explained the operator’s dream to achieve openness was an opportunity, but one which raised challenges around interoperability and, in turn competition: “you need companies to cooperate with each other”, he noted, explaining this involved “companies that literally should compete with each other”.

For Omantel, this makes collaboration between the O-RAN Alliance and TIP important, opening the way to deliver the platform “for all those companies to come together” and deliver interoperable systems.

It was a theme broadly echoed by Maite Aparicio, head of open RAN with Telefonica, and her NTT Docomo counterpart Sadayuki Abeta, who each noted the alignment of platforms offered benefits around integration.

Abeta noted interoperability testing had become a key element for operators in the 4G era, but the move to 5G had required improvements, work NTT Docomo had conducted for several years.

The operator representatives also discussed the changing landscape of the supply chain in the open RAN era, highlighting increased requirements on vendors around performance and costs.

Vendor view
Alla Goldner, director of 5G strategy with NEC, later picked up the thread of operator specifications and costs, noting the open RAN approach by definition involved multiple suppliers, making a focus on outlay important.

Joining NEC on the panel were representatives from Fujitsu, Mavenir, Intel, Lenovo, Marvell Technology and Samsung Electronics, with a key message being the shift to an open architecture still faced challenges around economies of scale and volume pricing.

Pricing challenges were also raised in a session on testing featuring Capgemini, Viavi Solutions, Keysight Technologies and Accenture.

Aurelio Nocerino, cloud first network, 5G global and Europe lead with Accenture, noted the testing environment involved a “large number of moving parts”, requiring a significant effort which “no single supplier can afford”.

Keysight Technologies VP and GP of network access Kalyan Sundhar noted the scale of the open RAN deployments places more than just cost control in the mix, with the variety of components and players meaning testing “has to be on steroids” for the network architecture to work.

One of those components, the Radio Intelligent Controller (RIC), was given its own panel session, during which Andrew Thiessen, head of 5G and xG with non-profit think-tank Mitre, explained he refers to the component as the “radio innovation centre”, because his group sees plenty of room to continue developing the radio element to enhance consumer broadband experiences in the 5G era.

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