Telefónica Deutschland (O2 Telefónica) recently started its commercial rollout of open RAN in Germany with the launch of an open RAN site in Landsberg am Lech, Bavaria in collaboration with Samsung. It quickly followed this up with the unveiling of a new 5G core network that is built entirely in the AWS cloud and uses technology from Nokia.

During an interview at TelecomTV’s Open RAN Summit, the operator’s CTIO Mallik Rao opened up about its open RAN ambitions and explained how this is part of a broader disaggregated, cloud-oriented strategy that also requires O2 Telefónica to retrain its workforce, embrace an agile approach and work with a wide a range of vendors and hyperscalers.

Scaling up

Rao said Telefónica Group has been testing open RAN in a number of its core markets in the past three to four years, working with the “entire industry ecosystem.”

Indeed, he made it clear that Telefónica is open to buying hardware and software from any of the big suppliers. However, he stressed that it will be critical for these suppliers to embrace the idea of hardware and software disaggregation in the network in order to support the implementation of open RAN in a brownfield environment.

In Landsberg am Lech, O2 Telefónica is currently working with Samsung on “disaggregating completely the software and hardware” and has gone live with one site, as already announced. The plan is to scale up to 10 to 15 sites in the next quarter.

“We would like to see the deployment of open RAN networks in Germany in a sizable scale, starting in 2025,” Rao said. The intention is to deploy open RAN on at least 20% of the network, he added.

The aim, he said, is to adopt a DevOps framework in the access network, enabling live upgrades and avoiding quarterly deployment cycles, for example.

“We’ve already started doing it in the core network recently. We have an Ericsson core in our network at this point of time, and we do in-service software upgrades. We tested the in-service software upgrades, and that’s what we want to start doing in the radio network in the coming quarters,” Rao said.

Core issues

While Ericsson is the supplier of O2 Telefónica’s 5G network core, which is cloud native but deployed on-premises, “we really want to take a big step in terms of going into the public cloud,” Rao said.

Here, the operator has been working with AWS, Google, Ericsson and Nokia for about two years. It recently decided to launch a new 5G core network that is built entirely in the cloud in collaboration with AWS and Nokia.

Rao said this step was taken in order to move away from continual trials and experience how migrating a standalone 5G network to the public cloud will work in a live environment with live customers. Around one million 5G customers will be moved to the cloud core in the next two to three months.

Rao commented that O2 Telefónica expects to “learn a lot” in the coming months, particularly with respect to managing a network where the operator will no longer have “a single neck to choke.” Indeed, he said it will not be possible to take a hands-off approach in a cloud-based environment. “We cannot outsource responsibility, we cannot outsource accountability,” he observed.

He noted that there are about 16 to 17 elements in the entire core network, and “we want to see all these elements hosted on a public cloud, hosted on a cloud environment, and be able to orchestrate the application, orchestrate the infrastructure and orchestrate through the service what we’re delivering to customers.”

Skilling up

Rao also pointed to the progress that O2 Telefónica has made in reskilling and upskilling its staff to work on cloud-based architectures.

“When we started off about four years back, we had five cloud-certified architects,” he said. “Today, we have about 65,” with the aim of reaching 100 over time. This has been achieved via a new training program that is available to any employee within the O2 Telefónica organization.

“Today, I don’t need to convince my team that cloud is the better thing,” he added.

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