Five Middle East giants to move together to open RAN

Five Middle East giants to move together to open RAN

19 July 2021 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Five Middle East mobile operators have announced they are working together to push forward their work towards open RAN technology in their networks.

The five are Zain, Etisalat, Saudi Arabia’s STC, Mobily, and Du, the brand of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company.

Nawaf Al Gharabally (pictured), Zain CTO, said: “This joint and innovative initiative by like-minded and visionary regional mobile operators is truly inspirational as it brings multiple benefits to all our stakeholders and further enhances the Middle East telecom sector’s position on the ICT world map.”

The move reflects closely the initiative earlier this year by five European telcos, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, TIM and Vodafone, which has similar aims.

The five Middle East operators say they are all committed to open RAN solutions, with the aim of driving drive innovation, cost efficiencies and customer mobile experience.

In particular they will share their industry knowledge and experience, setting a clear path to drive innovation for the ICT sector across the Middle East.

A memorandum of understanding between the five confirms commitment to deploy open RAN across their footprint, providing an opportunity to traditional RAN vendors to adopt open interfaces, software and hardware to build more agile and flexible mobile networks in the 5G and 4G era, support new entrants with innovative solutions and achieve cost efficiencies in RAN deployments.

Etisalat CTO Hatem Bamatraf said: “This is an extraordinary opportunity for the Middle East operators to come together to promote the development of an open technology that will help to enhance the flexibility and efficiency of our networks.”

STC’s senior VP of technology and operations, Haitham Alfaraj, said: “Today’s announcement signals the entry into a new era of operators’ collaboration in Middle East to accelerate the development of open network technologies, which helps in diversifying our strategic technology growth.”

Mobily CTO Alaa Almalki said: “The implementation of open RAN solutions supports the flexibility and provides more innovation in managing the network for more efficient operations. Mobily is willing to exert all efforts for the success of this partnership and forge several partnerships that push forward the development and innovation in the ICT sector.”

Du CTO Saleem AlBlooshi said: “Driving innovation and open RAN deployment is the shared responsibility of every telco operator.”

The five said in a joint statement that the partnership “will open immense opportunities for operators and the telecom ecosystem with the availability of interoperable, competitive and commercial grade open RAN products, building a framework to exchange best practices and technical outcomes”.

They said that, with open RAN, the industry is working towards standards and technical specifications that define open interfaces within the radio system, including hardware and software, so that networks can be deployed and operated based on mix-and-match components from different suppliers.

As in Europe, the Middle East operators are reacting in this way because the number of suppliers to the mobile industry in recent years, with a European duopoly, Ericsson and Nokia, competing again Huawei and ZTE of China, with a couple of others from Japan and South Korea.

Observers see a move to open systems in the radio network will open up the market to new and innovative suppliers.

The five said: “Operators will be able to draw on the reinvigorated supplier innovation to drive cost efficiencies and more flexibly deliver customised services in response to evolving customer demands.”

They added: “The introduction of open RAN, virtualisation and automation will enable a fundamental change in the way operators manage networks and deliver services. Operators will be able to add or shift capacity more quickly for end users, automatically resolve network incidents or provide enterprise level services on-demand for industry.”