Europe not too far behind on Open RAN, says Orange execs

Europe not too far behind on Open RAN, says Orange execs

19 November 2021 | Natalie Bannerman

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Capacity speaks to Orange executives Olivier Simon and Arnaud Vamparys, on why Open RAN will lead to a redevelopment of the European sector.

Following on from the report by Analysys Mason, commissioned by Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia (TIM), Telefónica and Vodafone, on plans for a European Open RAN ecosystem, Vamparys, Orange's senior VP of radio networks and 5G, says that the recent news comes as a continuation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entered into at the start of the year.

At the time, Orange, along with Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom, and Vodafone pledged to work with industry bodies such as the O-RAN Alliance and the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), as well as European policy makers, to ensure Open RAN in Europe reaches parity with other regions. This recent step is therefore the next milestone in its wider strategy to make Open RAN a reality.

"This is another step in that journey where thanks to report from Analysys Mason we've been able to really show where Europe is today in terms of its Open RAN ecosystem journey. Both in terms of the number of players, on different parts of the ecosystem from service to hardware, and even from a software perspective."

Recognising that now is the time to diversify the European Open RAN market, Vamparys says it's about more than just technical expertise it's about funding. While the EU continues to debate such topics as cloud and semiconductors, Open RAN should also be part of the conversation.

Part of the report entitled ‘Building an Open RAN ecosystem for Europe’, the group of telcos put forward five policy recommendations that will support their Open RAN ambitions.

Specifically, it calls for 'ensuring high-level political support for Open RAN' adding that it needs to be treated as 'strategic priority'.

Vamparys adds that many of tools and technical R&D is already in place, taking some learnings from the development of 5G standards, what's missing however is the "integration path and the first deployment part of the conversation". 

He also recognises that though Europe has some large tech vendors like Nokia and Ericsson, as well as a few smaller startups, what's missing in the market is some intermediate companies.

Delving a little on the need for more market players, Olivier Simon, Orange's director of radio innovation echo's Vamparys sentiments saying that in area of software diversity is key.

"The software part is also weak if we compare ourselves to other regions like the US. In Europe we don't have this kind of midsized competing company."

"The architecture defined by the O-RAN Alliance three years ago enables us to be able to put third-party software, based on open APIs and that's really new. It's really something that could help small and medium companies to step into our domain," added Vamparys.

Much conversation around Open RAN tends to focus on 5G but based on the architecture put forth by the O-RAN Alliance, Simon says it has in fact been defined for both 4G and 5G. As for older generations of technology the 2G and 3G there is no specifications but in theory there could be work arounds if any older networks choose to adopt a similar approach.

As a highly interconnected environment, Simon says that the Open RAN ecosystem could have some kind of ripple effect on other parts of the network.

"Initial deployments, particularly in rural areas deploy or run a system with the same topology as the current network. But if you're looking at your urban areas, we are expecting that the vRAN part of Open RAN concept would change its topology. 

This then it means that things like fibre will be required going the radio site and the transport network also need to be updating "because it's not the same protocol on this fibre compared to traditional systems".

Discussing how Europe has managed to lag behind in this area, Simon reminds us that 'Europe has been very strong in the hardware access network (a credit to the likes of Nokia and Ericsson)" and maybe it simply took a little more time for the region to "realise that there was a big architectural change to be done".

"Overall, I don't think we're massively behind we would not have done this work If we thought that we were already too late."

Vamparys adds that things are already becoming a reality, working with the likes of Nokia and Ericsson to turn "specs to reality".

With the recent launch of Orange's Open RAN Integration Centre earlier this month, the company continue to educate stakeholders on what is Open RAN, following on from the detailed report. Thanks for the Centre the company already has a place where companies wanting to join the ecosystem can test these capabilities in real life projects.

"The fact that we've announced that we want to have all of our equipment in Europe O-RAN compliant by 2025, I think is a big signal to our existing partners and to the new partners that want to join the journey," says Vamparys.