Spanish operator group Telefónica has decided OpenRan is the way forward and that Rakuten Mobile is the trailblazer.

Accordingly the two of them have signed Memorandum of Understanding that says they’ll collaborate on not just OpenRAN, but 5G Core and OSS technologies too. This marks the latest vote in favour of a technology set to disrupt the whole telecoms industry by allowing operators to pick and choose vendors for various bits of the radio access network.

“Telefónica strongly believes that networks are evolving towards end-to-end virtualisation through an open architecture, and OpenRAN is a key piece of the whole picture,” said Enrique Blanco, CTIO at Telefónica. “Beyond the flexibility and simplicity that OpenRAN will provide, it will change the supplier ecosystem and revolutionise the current 5G industry in the medium and long term.

“At the same time, open and virtualised networks will lead to a new telco operating model. Telefonica and Rakuten Mobile have signed this MoU to work towards evaluating and demonstrating the capability and feasibility of OpenRAN architectures and make them a reality.”

“We’re excited to collaborate with Telefónica on this shared vision of advancing OpenRAN,” said Tareq Amin, CTO of Rakuten Mobile. “I envision our partnership to also co-explore further development around Rakuten Communications Platform that will enable operators around the world to take advantage of cost-effective cloud-native mobile network architecture that is secure and reliable.”

Here’s the sort of stuff they expect to get up to:

  • Research and conduct lab tests and trials to support OpenRAN architectures, including the role of the AI (Artificial Intelligence) in the RAN Networks.
  • Jointly develop proposals for optimal 5G RAN architecture and OpenRAN models as part of industry efforts to achieve quicker time to market, new price-points, and the benefits of software-centric RAN.
  • Collaborate in building an open and cost-effective 5G ecosystem, based on open interfaces, that will help accelerate the maturity of 5G with global roaming.
  • Develop a joint procurement scheme of OpenRAN Hardware and Software that will help increase volumes and reach economies of scale, including CUs, DUs, RRUs, and other necessary network equipment and/or software components.

This is all starting to look a bit ominous for the big RAN vendors, especially Ericsson, which is the most reliant on mobile for its business. While it was just upstarts like Rakuten and Dish sniffing around OpenRAN it could still be dismissed as an outlier. But now that some of the most established operator groups are getting involved, it seems inevitable that OpenRAN-based technology will start taking significant market share from the closed ecosystem vendors.

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