Ericsson dips a first tentative toe in the OpenRAN ecosystem

Swedish kit vendor Ericsson has announced a Cloud RAN portfolio that represents an apparently reluctant acknowledgement telecoms industry reality.

The whole point of OpenRAN technology is to disaggregate the various components of the radio access network in order to give operators greater choice over who they pick to supply them. The reason we reckon Ericsson has dragged its feet on this matter is that much of its business model relies on operators buying complete RAN solutions, comprised of proprietary technology. OpenRAN is clearly a threat to that paradigm and thus an existential danger to Ericsson.

On the other hand, you can resist the tide of progress for only so long and, if your customers want to go in a certain direction, then surely you have to indulge them. So now we have Cloud RAN by Ericsson, which is a cloud-native software solution that deals with the computing that needs to be done within the RAN.

“5G is a platform for open innovation,” declared Ericsson’s head of Networks, Fredrik Jejdling. “By empowering a larger ecosystem of developers and industries, we can co-create and bring new cloud innovations to the 5G space. With Cloud RAN by Ericsson, we will help our customers evolve their networks with future-proof technology while maximizing their network investments today.”

You can almost picture the gritted teeth through which that quote was given, can’t you? We had a chat with Per Narvinger, Ericsson’s head of product area networks, and he went big on the ‘future-proofing’ narrative too. He also stressed, however, that the current way of doing things is more cost effective, but that Ericsson is keen to offer its customers more automation and flexibility.

We asked why Ericsson was making this announcement now, when the product won’t be available for a year, and Narvinger explained that making the move to this kind of software is a big step, so Ericsson wants to give its customers time to plan and prepare. It seems likely that Ericsson was also under pressure to demonstrate it wasn’t going to deny the inevitable indefinitely.

Assuming OpenRAN does become a mainstream thing over the next decade, there’s still plenty of opportunities for the incumbent vendors to do each component part better than anyone else. The annoying thing for them is that they will have a lot more competition. You  can read a more technical analysis of the move at Light Reading here, but this move apparently signifies the final point of no return for the disaggregated RAN.

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