Special Report: FYUZ Summit
Perhaps reflecting that the conference business has not fully recovered from the Covid shutdowns, there is a trend for previously separate events to merge. We recently had Network X, which brought together Broadband World Forum, 5G World and Telco Cloud; last week Madrid hosted FYUZ, an amalgamation of the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) Summit, the O-RAN Alliance’s Open RAN Summit, and a new strand called Metaverse Connectivity Summit.
This provided a timely update on the state of Open RAN, though as with most events related to this emerging platform, as many questions were raised as answered.
The hand of Meta was more clearly seen than in the last physical TIP Summit in 2019, at a time when TIP seemed to be trying to distance itself from its founder. The group has always had something of an identity crisis. It has been split between Facebook/Meta’s overriding goal of making the RAN cheap and simple to deploy, in order to enable a wide variety of operators to extend affordable broadband access to “the next billion”; and the objectives of the large operators, particularly the European giants such as Vodafone and Telefónica, which have provided significant leadership in TIP activities, but which clearly do not want diversity of deployers, but are targeting a more open supply chain to improve the economics of the leading MNOs.
The dilemmas inherent in that situation were not resolved in Madrid, and if Meta was more visible, there was less focus than in the past on underserved communities or enabling start-up suppliers. Vodafone had one of the largest voices, and it used it to anoint very large and powerful vendors, notably Nokia, Samsung and Intel (see below), as the leaders in driving an Open RAN platform. The dreams of a host of small, innovative suppliers being welcomed into a multivendor fold seemed distant, as leading chip and equipment vendors set out their end-to-end stalls.
As usual in O-RAN and TIP events, a key issue was how to integrate multivendor, cloud-based networks cost-effectively. A number of operators have done this inhouse and now seek to market their methods to others, Reliance Jio and Docomo among them (Docomo was providing some details of its systems integration efforts in Madrid).
Rakuten, of course, has set up a whole vendor arm, Symphony to commercialize its platform and services, and at the event, was discussing its progress to adopting true open source technologies. This is another of the points of dispute within Open RAN – how far it is practical or desirable to develop a truly open source platform, as opposed to just an open one with common interfaces to avoid lock-ins. The O-RAN Alliance has an open source strand, but the official specifications are not fully open source, but with Rakuten replacing its Red Hat cloud layer with a new Linux distribution, the tide may be flowing towards a higher degree of openness.
The Open RAN/TIP focus may be shifting inexorably towards very large vendors, but the new spirit of cooperation and openness is still visible between large operators. TIP’s chair, Yago Tenorio (Vodafone’s director of network architecture) shared the opening keynote with the O-RAN Alliance’s COO, Alex Choi, who is Deutsche Telekom’s SVP of group technology. TIP has a new executive director, former Ericsson executive Kristian Toivo, who said in an interview that Open RAN is on the cusp of commercial reality, meaning that TIP has a significant role to play in easing deployment challenges and driving roll-outs to scale. He said: “This is very much where I’m working with my team and the board of TIP to position us to be even more relevant in enabling commercial-grade deployment at scale.”
And while there are about 150 Open RAN trials and deployments worldwide, according to TIP, the group has other activities too. It launched an open fixed access project at the Summit, and also works on disaggregated transport solutions through the Open Optical group, as well as Open WiFi and other groups.