Mobile networks: the federal government and the industry rely on Open RAN

The federal government is promoting the further development of the open mobile communications standard Open RAN (Open Radio Access Network) as part of the Corona economic stimulus package decided last summer with around 2 billion euros. According to media reports, the funding will now be distributed by four ministries.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Research is providing 635 million euros, the Ministry of Transport 625 million, the Ministry of Economics 590 million and the Ministry of the Interior 150 million. Initially, 15 projects are planned for funding, reported the Handelsblatt.

Network operators see Open RAN as an opportunity to become more independent from the oligopoly of network equipment providers and to gain more flexibility in network expansion. When setting up a cellular network, there is no getting around the major suppliers Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia and ZTE, who sell proprietary technology from the antenna to the core network.

With the increasing skepticism of the governments towards Chinese suppliers, this selection threatens to become even smaller in the future. This is another reason why the network operators are pushing the development of Open RAN in the one they founded O-RAN-Alliance Ahead. In parallel, the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) worked with numerous hardware manufacturers on Open RAN.

Open RAN promises to virtualize at least parts of the functions previously performed by proprietary hardware as software and to execute them on standard hardware. For example, the part of a conventional base station that processes the signals coming from the antenna and forwards them to the core network can be virtualized with Open RAN. This is the beginning of a development in mobile communications that is already well advanced in the fixed network area.

Network operators see the advantage of an open standard with defined interfaces, among other things, that they can use ready-made solutions from different providers. As a rule, virtualized network components can also be commissioned and updated more quickly. “We will be able to integrate new services into the network much faster,” says Telefónica CTO Mallik Rao.

However, components from different manufacturers must first be coordinated with one another and integrated into a running network with proprietary hardware. That is a lot of work for the network operators who otherwise do the equipment. But companies are ready to do so because the advantages of Open RAN outweigh them.

More competition should also be good for the industry. “Open RAN could also strengthen the competition for the best technology in mobile radio stations,” says Vodafone boss Hannes Ametsreiter. While the network operators are also expecting a cost advantage from more competition, the Federal Government sees an opportunity above all for German companies to get a foot in the door again. That should now be promoted.

Open RAN is not yet ready to be used on a broad front in a large cellular network. The development is not yet mature for all radio standards and frequencies. “Open RAN is still in its infancy”, summarizes Ametsreiter. Telefónica CEO Markus Haas estimates that the standard will be ready for productive use from around 2025. But there are already first experiments.

Telefónica Deutschland uses Open RAN with Altiostar software at the first O2 antenna locations in Landsberg, Bavaria, in LTE live operation. Hardware from Dell, Intel, Supermicro and Xilinx is used here; The Japanese NEC group is on board as a system integrator. From autumn the network operator plans to use Open RAN on a larger scale in the O2 network at around 1000 antenna locations.

Telekom also has plans. In the course of the year Neubrandenburg is to be developed as a model city for Open RAN. Telekom wants to turn the small town in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania into an “O-RAN-City”, says Claudia Nemat, chief technology officer. Nokia is also on board. The traditional equipment suppliers may not be thrilled that they are losing part of their business with Open RAN, but they will have to go along with it.


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