Telefónica marked another step in its pursuit of fostering open RAN, announcing Monday that the operator validated an “all-in-one” 5G standalone small cell powered by Qualcomm’s RAN platform.

The small cell was created by Askey, a Taiwan-based design and manufacturer, and Node-H, which provided radio access, security and management software. The O-RAN-compliant node is based on Qualcomm’s FSM100 5G RAN platform, with the validation demo performed at Telefónica’s Technology & Automation lab.

One of the aims is to deliver an open-RAN compliant small cell that can support a variety of use cases for different verticals, including smaller network setups with just a few small cells to large campus environments.

According to Telefónica, the new small cell is a complete 5G base station that can connect either directly to the operator’s macro network or to a dedicated private 5G core. The small cell separates CU, DU and RU functions following open and standard interfaces, which is meant to provide added flexibility.

Telefonica and its partners talked up both easy deployment for enterprises and private networks.

“The business case for 5G private networks has received a huge boost through advances in the regulatory framework”, said Mike Cronin, CEO of Node-H, in a statement. “This has the potential to unleash a large amount of private investment in a technology which merits that expenditure, bringing true 5G performance to those who can benefit from it.”

Askey has previous relationships with both Node-H and Qualcomm. The manufacturer has collaborated with Node-H on 3G and 4G technologies and it already utilizes Qualcomm tech for its indoor and outdoor small cell solutions.

In July, Askey said it was looking forward to Qualcomm evolving its next-gen 5G RAN small cell technology after the chip giant introduced the industry’s first 3GPP Release 16-compliant 5G small cell open RAN compatible platform (the FSM2000) a month prior.

Qualcomm’s FSM100 platform supports both mmWave and sub-6 GHz spectrum and is meant to enhance network coverage, capacity and power efficiency.

“We’re excited to collaborate with Telefónica, Node-H, and Askey in developing this comprehensive solution which is designed to quickly and easily allow the deployment of 5G for campuses, smart factories, venues, hospitals and offices,” said Dino Flore, VP of Technology at Qualcomm Europe, in a statement.

While Qualcomm’s had 5G solutions for small cells since at least 2018, the chipset maker has been working on a stronger push in the infrastructure space over the last couple of years. And with open RAN has said it wants to deliver the best of both worlds in terms of high performance with low power, and usable in open RAN architectures. Last year it announced plans with another major European operator, Vodafone, to develop open RAN reference designs with the goal of making it easier for smaller and newer entrants to leverage high-performance silicon needed to support 5G base stations.

When Qualcomm in 2020 introduced additions to its RAN portfolio spanning deployment scenarios and designed to support open and virtualized architectures, CCS Insight’s Geoff Blabber called Qualcomm’s diversification a positive development for vRAN and open RAN.

“Supplier choice and diversity is a key objective and Qualcomm’s wireless expertise will be welcome from macro base stations down to small cells where it already plays today,” Blaber said at the time, adding that by 2022 Qualcomm-powered products would be launching in a more mature market where open interfaces and best practice implementation was more developed.  

And a recent January report from Dell’Oro shows that open RAN has made progress, with preliminary findings suggesting total revenues surprised the upside in both 2020 and 2021.

“The Open RAN movement has come a long way in just a few years, surprising both proponents and skeptics,” said Stefan Pongratz, vice president and analyst with the Dell’Oro Group, in a statement. 

As for Telefónica, it’s among the major European operators that are looking to leverage open RAN and help advance the technology and ecosystem so that performance meets the required levels and can commercially scale. It’s undertaken open RAN trials and previously set the aim of hitting 50% radio network growth based on open RAN by 2025. Open RAN pilots with NEC in Telefónica’s core markets of Spain, Germany, U.K. and Brazil are expected to scale to at least 800 sites in the lead up to a commercial deployment expected this year.

Among its efforts, Telefónica signed an MoU alongside DT, Orange and Vodafone pledging to work together to help make open RAN competitive and committing to O-RAN deployments. In November the four operators, as well as TIM, delivered recommendations, based on findings from Analysys Mason, that called on policymakers to also step in to assist building and prioritizing an open RAN ecosystem for Europe.

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