MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS BARCELONA – Some of the leading European operators, including BT, Orange and Telefónica, still show very little interest in open radio access network (RAN) technology at this stage of the game.

When asked about open RAN, BT’s Chief Network Officer Greg McCall said it was something that BT was “embracing.” But then he said, “We participate in a lot of the forums. We are not expecting open RAN to feature in our network this half of the decade. We’re working with Nokia and Ericsson, expanding our RAN.”

Fierce asked a similar question of Cayetano Carbajo, global CTIO and director of Core, Transport and Platforms with Telefónica. Carbajo said, “We are talking about open RAN. We have been very vocal, but not so many nodes implemented in our network.”

Although Telefónica is in the O-RAN Alliance, Carbajo said: “Nobody is convinced of the competitiveness of open RAN. We are implementing 200 base stations in the UK, but not thousands today. Today, no competitive open RAN is available.”

Carbajo did say that Telefónica has done some open RAN testing with Mavenir and with Rakuten as well as with Nokia and Ericsson.

For its part, Orange is at least running an open RAN trial in Romania, in conjunction with Vodafone. And it’s also testing open RAN in the lab. “In terms of deployment we think it will be from 2025,” said Bernard Despres, VP for Core Network, Automation and Security with Orange.

Orange still uses Ericsson and Nokia for the lion’s share of its RAN equipment. But Despres noted that eventually Orange could pursue open RAN with its favorite vendors and “in the beginning take all pieces from one supplier, but over time it gives a flexible, modular approach.” 

5G cloudification and standalone

Generally, BT, Telefónica and Orange are much more focused on cloudifying their networks and getting to 5G standalone (SA) than they are worried about open RAN.

BT’s McCall said he’s been working on cloudifying the core network. “The ecosystem of standalone is less mature than we would have hoped,” he said. “We embarked on the standalone journey about three years ago.” He said BT’s wireless customers all have an SA-capable SIM card and the operator has built out its SA core. It’s now doing work in the RAN to deliver true SA later this year.

He said there’s a bit of a hitch in the U.K. market because the device ecosystem (we’re talking about Apple) still doesn’t support SA on its devices. But BT is working with Apple to support carrier aggregation of the necessary spectrum bands on its devices. Samsung has enabled SA in its 5G devices for the U.K.


The France-based operator Orange last year picked Spain as its first market to move to a 5G standalone (SA) core, and today Despres said that SA core is complete.

In its markets in France and Slovakia, Orange is “technically ready for 5G SA core,” said Despres. And Orange is also making advances in Belgium.

5G SA enables operators to offer network slicing, and Orange can already offer some service-level-agreement slices to its business customers in Spain. Despres called these “static slices” because they are sold as a permanent product, not something that customers can choose to turn on and off dynamically. 

Despres cited the same device situation as McCall, saying that most of the so-called 5G devices currently are non-standalone and can’t handle heavy network slicing workloads. He said some Orange networks have multiple spectrum bands, and when there is no carrier aggregation, the device chooses one spectrum band, which results in reduced throughput.


For its part, Telefónica is still mainly on a virtualization journey.

This week, O2 Telefónica announced it would start deploying Ericsson’s Cloud RAN, supporting 5G Standalone (SA), in Offenbach, Germany in the first half of 2024, marking the first deployment of Ericsson Cloud RAN in Europe.

Telefónica’s Carbajo indicated that the company is working hard to disaggregate hardware from software in all areas of its networks: the transport, broadband access and 5G RAN and core.

But Telefonica has networks in 12 countries, and although the networks in Europe are more advanced than the ones in Latin America, it’s striving for some level of consistency as it works on disaggregation and implementing cloud-native technologies.

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