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March 15, 2023

Is a single-vendor Open RAN solution really open?Is a single-vendor Open RAN solution really open?

Is a single-vendor Open RAN solution really open?

Speaking Openly About Open Networks

Is a single-vendor Open RAN solution really openIs a single-vendor Open RAN solution really open

Speaking Openly About Open Networks
Is a single-vendor Open RAN solution really open?

There’s a quote, likely apocryphal, that has long been credited to Henry Ford regarding the choice of colors available for the Ford Model T: “A customer can have any color they want, as long as it’s black.” In other words, the customer had the ability to choose, but not really.

That quote reminds us of another oxymoronic term currently gaining traction in the telecommunications world: “single-vendor Open RAN.” Really? Is a single-vendor Open RAN solution really “open” if one vendor is supplying all the parts?

If you’re a network operator looking to diversify your supplier options and gain cost efficiencies, probably not.

While no one claims that designing, building and implementing Open RAN solutions is easy, the basic concept of Open RAN is pretty simple: open the telco ecosystem to a variety of hardware and software vendors – of all sizes – and develop standards that make those vendor solutions interoperable and easily deployed on customer networks. This not only gives network operators the ability to escape vendor lock and source solutions from a larger pool of suppliers, it also gives new suppliers access to the marketplace and increases competition among those suppliers. That would, in turn, speed innovation and drive down costs. That’s a business concept as fundamental as the efficiency of an automobile assembly line.

Open in name only

Delivering on the promise of 5G technology and bringing new 5G solutions to market requires collaboration between the vendors that develop the solutions and the network operators that deploy them. Open network architectures make that collaboration possible. A so-called “single vendor Open RAN” solution would be an open system in name only. In reality, it would be no different than a single RAN solution.

In a single vendor Open RAN scenario, an operator would still be beholden to one vendor for all of its network hardware and software – classic vendor lock – with no room for other solution providers to contribute.

Limiting choice and preventing an operator from taking advantage of potentially lower-priced, more flexible options would also hinder their agility. As networks continue to evolve, and as the ways in which customers use those networks change, operators need to be agile and able to cost-effectively scale their operations up or down as network demand fluctuates.

In fact, the flexibility limitations threaten an even bigger potential for 5G growth – the promised expansion of highly secure, high bandwidth networks for use in industry, enterprise, public safety, healthcare and more.

Relying on a single vendor solution would also remove the incentive for that vendor to continue to innovate or otherwise implement customer-friendly practices that would result from a more competitive environment.

Finally, after years of operators, vendors and standards organizations working together to develop a system that promotes interoperability, flexibility and healthy competition, a “walled garden” that excludes other vendors would undo all that has been accomplished.

Why be open?

At the risk of belaboring our Model T analogy, let’s examine why single-choice products or solutions rarely stay in vogue.

The Model T wasn’t the first automobile on the market, but it was the first to be mass produced and marketed to the average consumer as an affordable mode of transportation. And it was pretty popular … until other options came along, and in different colors!

People like to have options. Unless your product is a commodity, your customers will shop around for the one that best suits their needs. That promotes healthy competition among the producers of a product which leads to a continuous loop of innovation and cost savings.

A true multi-vendor Open RAN ecosystem operates in similar fashion – welcoming new vendors, empowering smaller companies, or new market entrants, to bring their solutions to the marketplace, promoting flexibility and agility to select and deploy solutions from multiple sources. This diversity of choice and the innovations it can bring are especially critical as network operators transform their networks to 5G – and eventually 6G – technology.

Open RAN technology enables operators to leverage new technologies and vendor solutions, evolve the ways they build and operate their networks, and bring new services to their customers. As automated, disaggregated, cloud-based network architectures continue to take hold, Open RAN architecture can drive innovation and uncover new opportunities, while also lowering capex, opex and TCO.

Open RAN, and openness in general, will foster collaboration and encourage new ways of thinking which will bring new solutions faster and accelerate operators’ digital transformations. Why bother building out your 5G network with Open RAN using a solution that isn’t really open at all?

Speaking Openly About Open Networks Series:

As operators eye their medium-to-long-term network plans for 5G and beyond, it is becoming increasingly clear that open networks – including Open RAN – will be the way forward for all operators. The journey to a successful open network strategy will require significant planning and preparation on all phases, including network migration, deployment, and ongoing operations. The end result will be well worth the effort.  In this series of articles, NEC will address head-on some of the questions operators are – and should be – asking as they embark on their own open networks journey. Read the articles below: