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March 22, 2023

Barcelona nightBarcelona night

Lessons from MWC 2023:
Open RAN is Only a Matter of Time (and Investment)

Barcelona nightBarcelona night

Lessons from MWC 2023:
Open RAN is Only a Matter of Time (and Investment)

MWC 2023 – the telecom industry’s largest and most influential trade event – took place in Barcelona February 27 through March 2. More than 88,000 people from across the mobile technology ecosystem gathered to check out the newest mobile devices and technology solutions, discuss the current and future state of the industry, and sample some pretty good tapas!

The theme for MWC 2023 was “Velocity: Unleashing Tomorrow’s Technology – Today”. That theme of ever faster networks and innovation was reflected in the wide variety of technologies on display and the topics covered in the panel discussions and in the meeting rooms.

The NEC team was in Barcelona and met with dozens of analysts, media, fellow solution developers and operators from around the world, all of whom were eager to talk about Open RAN technology and its place in the mobile ecosystem. Those meetings and the perspectives we heard from the people who follow the technology closely left us convinced – now more than ever – that widespread adoption of Open RAN is not a matter of if, but of when. Provided the broader industry remains committed to making it happen.

Where is Open RAN now?

The development and deployment of Open RAN technology continues to progress across the industry as solution providers and network operators collaborate on use cases, testing and implementations. Major operators in the US, Europe and other areas are moving forward with proofs of concept, large-scale testing, and some initial deployments. Solution providers, including NEC, are performing their own testing and trials in parallel, moving the needle forward.

Those combined efforts are confirming the viability of Open RAN technology. They’re also identifying some issues the industry needs to address as we move forward, namely:

  • Overcoming the complexity of integrating multi-vendor solutions
  • Introducing energy efficiency into the ecosystem
  • Addressing security issues

Working together to identify and address issues is foundational to the concept of openness and Open RAN technology, and the industry is already addressing these concerns, and others.

●  Overcoming the complexity of integrating multi-vendor solutions

Openness and interoperability require collaboration – to set standards and to ensure that technologies and solutions from multiple vendors can work together. That’s admittedly not easy. However integration will get easier as vendors and operators continue to work together. But there’s a caveat.

The Open RAN vendors can develop and perfect their solutions, but the operators need to provide the opportunities to integrate those solutions into their networks to prove them in the field. That requires investment. Putting capital into the market will enable both the operators and vendors to work together to develop greater Open RAN expertise.

NEC isn’t waiting. Our radios are already integrated with all the major CU/DU providers. Our converged core is running virtually on AWS and we’re working to integrate with other hyper-scalers as well.

For Open RAN to continue to evolve and overcome its inherent complexity, both operators and vendors need to commit their time, talent and, yes, treasure to making it happen. Like anything else, the complexity of integrating ecosystems made from components built by multiple vendors will become easier as the industry gains experience.

●  Introducing energy efficiency into the ecosystem

Power consumption and overall energy efficiency are important considerations for network operators, not just to do the responsible thing for the environment, but also for obvious bottom-line considerations such as total cost of ownership (TCO). Energy efficiency will also continue to improve as companies work together to refine Open RAN and its related technologies.

NEC continues to work with other members of the Open RAN ecosystem, including Qualcomm and NTT DOCOMO, to increase productivity and energy savings, and further advance Open RAN technologies.

NEC is also working independently on ways to introduce greater energy efficiency into the RAN. Look for the results of those efforts to be published later this summer.


●  Security Issues

Network security tops every operator’s list of “Things that Keep Us Up at Night.” That’s especially true when it comes to building and operating an open ecosystem of interoperable technologies and solutions from multiple vendors around the world.

Security is also a top priority within the Open RAN ecosystem. Operators and vendors are committed to working with each other and with national regulatory authorities and industry standards bodies to ensure Open RAN solutions are deployed and managed securely.

Just prior to MWC 2023, Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange S.A., TIM, Telefonica S.A., and Vodafone Group Plc released a new windowreport summarizing the progress made to improve security, as well as the maturity and energy efficiency, of Open RAN networks. The companies affirmed their commitment to cooperate with national authorities and to apply security protocols defined by the O-RAN Alliance and 3GPP “themselves and throughout the supply chain.”

Other operators and vendors pursuing Open RAN solutions are taking similar steps to ensure Open RAN security.  

Open RAN Players Need to Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk

Open RAN is a quickly maturing technology and is seen as a trigger for ongoing innovations. Open RAN solutions and the ecosystem are expanding. But there is still work to be done.

Some operators have said they plan to slow down spending until some of the unanswered questions about Open RAN are addressed. But if operators are slow to invest capital into the market until all the questions are answered fully, vendors won’t be able to develop the expertise needed to answer those questions – at least, not as quickly as necessary.

Open RAN is happening and will play a major role in tomorrow’s networks. It not only supports the original vision for 5G – where operators and solution providers work together to develop solutions for a growing system of use cases – it is also critical for the evolution to 6G.

6G will be AI-native and all about the cloud, where virtualization and automation, even faster speeds, and mega data processing capability can be managed more economically. If your operation isn’t “cloudified”, moving to 6G will be nearly impossible. Open, interoperable networks will be key to making 6G a reality.

MWC 2023 covered a lot of ground, and Open RAN was a major topic. In addition to commitments from across the industry to the success of Open RAN, the other message that came through loud and clear is that any discussion about openness and Open RAN needs to include the acknowledgment that everyone involved – operators as well as vendors – has a role to play in Open RAN’s success and a shared obligation to invest, both in time and dollars.