How does your open RAN garden grow? An overview into the open RAN state of play

Last week, we looked at the evolving definitions of cloud RAN (C-RAN), virtualized RAN (vRAN) and open RAN (O-RAN), now it's time to  examine the current and ongoing state of the O-RAN sector.

“There are some perceptions the open RAN market has lost momentum over the past year, however there have been continued steps forwards in terms of technology, system certification and testing,” James Kirby, senior analyst in the networks practice at Analysys Mason told Silverlinings via email, adding that he agreed with his company’s prediction that O-RAN networks will really start to become prevalent in 2025.

“We expect rural and private networks to offer the most significant opportunity for open RAN over the next few years, however, the efforts from leading MNOs and vendors need to continue - particularly relating to multi-vendor systems,” said Kirby.

Operator’s choice

“Some of the most advanced operators in open RAN (including single vendor certified systems) are Vodafone, Rakuten Mobile, DISH, Verizon and NTT DoCoMo,” Kirby said. “This is purely from the perspective of deployments to date,” he said.

“If we were to discuss the number of sites deployed to date, then Rakuten Mobile would still likely be the leading operator,” Kirby said. “The company invested in commercial roll-outs of the technology early on, particularly focusing on 4G LTE deployments. However, Rakuten has since mentioned that early deployments were not entirely O-RAN compliant,” he noted.

“When discussing 5G open RAN, some are likely ahead of Rakuten,” the analyst said. “DISH, Verizon and NTT DoCoMo are all expected to be close to or above the 10,000 site mark overall for open RAN. However, it’s worth pointing out that Verizon’s efforts have been single vendor so far, and there’s a lack of clarity on when and how this will change,” Kirby added.

“Verizon is using Samsung’s vRAN, which is reportedly O-RAN compliant,” Kirby wrote.

“Whether you can call that ‘true’ open RAN is an argument some are raising, but it certainly paves a path towards multi-vendor.”

Kirby also noted, “the extent to which Verizon will move towards multi-vendor is hard to tell. It has previously mentioned that it would stick to its core vendors for open RAN, which would not drive a very open ecosystem.”

Euro O-RAN movements

“There's also the big push in Europe from Vodafone, Telefonica and others,” Kirby continued. “Site deployments have seen comparatively less progress in Europe, but there has been good investment in trials and testing initiatives, and the number of operators now active in the open RAN discussion is encouraging.”

“For DT's activity specifically, it's encouraging that it is headed towards commercial deployments, although the scale of these are still not public. Its initial trials faced a range of problems, and the fact it's pushing forwards is positive.” Kirby said. “That said, these commercial deployments can be seen as secondary trials in many ways. There still remain many challenges for open RAN that will take time to solve, but step-by-step trials and deployments will all help.”

Unlike some other mobile network operators, DT can be seen pursuing real-world deployments of multi-vendor systems (with Nokia, Fujitsu and Mavenir), Kirby added. “This takes time,” he noted. “We wouldn’t expect DT to deploy fully open RAN in the macro network until at least 2027 because of this,” the analyst said.

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