opinion


What are Boris Johnson’s alternatives to Huawei?

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece John Baker, SVP of Business Development at Mavenir argues that OpenRAN must signal the start of a new cycle for infrastructure vendor market.

For many years now, the telco infrastructure market has been dominated by just three vendors – Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson.  Other firms have fallen by the wayside, unable to compete on price or move fast enough to keep up with changes in technology.

Of course, the mobile ecosystem has always encouraged innovative players to develop new solutions and there are plenty of companies supplying the operator community with specialist network products and services. Having said that, there is no doubt that the operator choices for its end to end Network infrastructure vendor have reduced over the last 10 years.

Now one of those three Network vendors, Huawei, is facing a geopolitical and commercial storm itself. The US government has turned against it for its 5G infrastructure and is putting pressure on other NATO countries to do the same – causing Britain’s PM Boris Johnson to cry out ‘but what are the alternatives?’

Whatever the truth of the matter or the motive for raising it, US fears about hidden spyware or an over-reliance on the technology from a vendor thought to be controlled by a ‘competing nation’ is causing a major market stir and threatening to exclude Huawei from operator tender lists across the USA and Europe.

Commercially, this can be portrayed as good news for Nokia and Ericsson, but it is not quite that straightforward.  Firstly, a reduction to just two vendor choices cannot be good for the market. Secondly, all this is happening at the same time as the technology is rapidly evolving, creating new ways of building networks and delivering services.

Operators concerned about their dwindling source of options for network  infrastructure – and already frustrated by the feeling of being trapped into ‘vendor lock-in’ of hardware-centric solutions – are therefore increasingly attracted to the commercial and technical opportunities of virtualization; and especially to the new breed of vendors emerging with software-centric  solutions.

What’s more there’s a general feeling that the traditional vendors, after naturally taking a protectionist stance to the hardware model that underpins their businesses, are no longer at the leading edge of the technology when it comes to the software-led world of virtualized networks. Ericsson, for example, has so far shied away from embracing OpenRAN – an initiative that allows networks to be built using off-the-shelf servers rather than proprietary boxes.

The OpenRAN initiative is at the heart of the Facebook-led Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP) looking to bridge the digital divide by lowering the cost of mobile network deployment. It’s also been welcomed by Vodafone, as evidenced by the RFP it has issued looking to convert its entire European footprint to an OpenRAN model.

Late last year, analyst Stephane Teral at IHS Markits cited my own company, Mavenir, as being best placed to become the new third choice vendor in the market.  But this revolution in supply is not just about adding one or two new vendors to the supply chain to answer Boris Johnson’s plea.

It’s about the creation of a truly new infrastructure market model.  One where open interfaces, software-led, cloud-based network architectures with end-to-end automation become the new normal.  It’s a wind of change bringing a new cycle in the infrastructure vendor market – giving operators more choice, lower costs, more service flexibility, and a faster return on network investment.

 

John Baker is the Senior Vice President of Business Development at Mavenir. A veteran of the mobile industry, board member for 5G Americas, and sought-after industry speaker, John Baker leads the 5G team at Mavenir, intent on disrupting the market by transforming operator network economics. A visionary and driving force behind Mavenir’s business strategy, John is at the forefront of the company’s drive to change operator views on wireless infrastructure deployment—promoting a software-focused approach to innovation, with no ties to supporting legacy hardware.

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