AT&T’s CTO, Andre Fuetsch, is now requiring all its RAN hardware suppliers to support Open RAN specifications, though the timing for commercial deployments remains somewhat uncertain. However, he told Recon Analytics that this would start with indoor networks, since they are based on small cells and are relatively simple to install and operate.
“Our first implementations here will be indoor and in-building,” he said. “If you have issues [with an indoor network] you can always fall back to the outdoor network.” Its next stage, once it has proven the platform indoors, would be to extend Open RAN to rural outdoor networks, which are also simpler than dense, urban networks.
This mirrors the trend among many operators to deploy the new Open RAN platforms first in relatively undemanding environments, especially if this roll-out also marks the company’s first migration to a cloud-based RAN, and/or first use of one or more new suppliers. AT&T may have contributed much of the initial code that found its way into O-RAN, but it has been fairly cautious about committing to firm deployment plans.
“We have to introduce O-RAN in incremental modules,” Fuetsch said, adding that he was aiming for the “right blending” as AT&T slowly moves from traditional RAN to virtualized and open technology.
He said that support for Open RAN is largely driven by AT&T’s ongoing effort to diversify its supply chain – this started with its Domain 2.0 program, which has resulted in the adoption of white box architectures in the transport network, including some new suppliers such as DriveNets. He highlighted the RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) as one element where AT&T hopes to open up to multiple vendors.
AT&T recently told the FCC that it would add Open RAN equipment to its network “within the next year”, a similar timescale to Verizon’s. Both operators have talked about insisting on Open RAN from all their vendors, but neither has specified what that really means in practice. Both are major customers of Ericsson, which has not agreed to support key O-RAN specs such as the near-real time RIC or the Option 7.2x functional split, yet Verizon has even said that Ericsson will start providing it with Open RAN-compliant equipment later this year.