Etisalat moves to open RAN to help Afghanistan get to 5G

Etisalat moves to open RAN to help Afghanistan get to 5G

07 April 2021 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Etisalat is building a cloud-native open radio access network (open RAN) service in Afghanistan.

The company, which is using technology from Parallel Wireless, Intel and Supermicro, says the strategy will allow it to equip 2G, 3G and 4G systems with white box solutions that can be upgraded to 5G in the future.

Hatem Bamatraf (pictured, via Huawei), Etisalat’s international CTO, said: “The combination of open RAN, virtualisation, and automation will enable Etisalat to meet the needs of our customers most cost-effectively in central Asia. Being able to use an open RAN system will help us not only extend our initial investment, but also bring new services much faster.”

Afghanistan has seen a strong increase in mobile broadband with penetration reaching 22% in 2019 — up from 1% in 2013. While mobile broadband is still in its early stages of development, growth is expected in 2022.

Supermicro’s director of edge and 5G solutions, Jeff Sharpe, said: “We are pleased to be working with Etisalat, Parallel Wireless, and Intel to enable an open ecosystem of disaggregated RAN solutions using vendor-neutral RAN hardware and software-defined technology based on open interfaces and community-developed standards.”

The contract is an intriguing move for Etisalat, which only two years ago was a confirmed user of Huawei equipment. In February 2019 Etisalat announced a contract with the Chinese vendor to roll out 5G services in the UAE.

Open RAN gives operators the choice of swapping elements of their radio network and ending the lock-in on which many RAN vendors have relied — not just Huawei but also Ericsson, Nokia and ZTE.

Bamatraf said: “Parallel Wireless together with Intel and Supermicro have become true strategic partners and key enablers in undertaking this open RAN implementation.”

Parallel Wireless’s director of sales, Amrit Heer, said: “In collaboration with the ecosystem partners, Parallel Wireless aims to make the RAN more open and flexible. While there is significant innovation happening, there are considerable gaps and challenges that make it difficult to deploy end-to-end open RAN solutions, putting a heavy burden back on operators.”