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14 June 2022

Symphony and Nokia point to Open RAN reality check 

By Wireless Watch Staff

As new technologies come closer to at-scale deployment, even their supporters inevitably become more cautious, or at least realistic. So Nokia, which embraced Open RAN quickly as a way to outwit Ericsson, has made some surprisingly strong comments about the platform’s failure to reduce cost, while Rakuten Symphony has shifted its focus away from mature markets and operators, and says emerging markets and countries with “adversity” are the best breeding ground for disruptive Open RAN. 


Symphony’s CMO Geoff Hollingworth said in a recent interview that Open RAN could help poorer countries bypass legacy architectures and seize technical leadership. He said the company, which will commercialize Rakuten Mobile’s RAN platform, is “heavily invested and interested” in the Middle East and Africa, as these markets “are more likely to adopt faster something new that can help them become technology leaders … it’s easier to do something disruptive if there’s adversity.” 


Meanwhile, Tommi Uitto, head of Nokia’s mobile networks business, told LightReading that Open RAN has limited chance of boosting competition or reducing costs, while working with other suppliers in multivendor deployments remains too difficult. Some of these comments may be self-serving, since Nokia would presumably like to wrong-foot Ericsson and Huawei by adopting Open RAN, while convincing operators that it would be safer to implement open interfaces within a Nokia-only network. But they do echo the concerns of many operators, even those within the Open RAN supporters’ club. 


“There is an assumption that more suppliers is more competition and prices come down, which I am not sure will happen,” he said. “Is the cake big enough for 10 different suppliers? There used to be 10 different base station suppliers, but we have gravitated to a smaller number.” 


He added: “Mavenir and Altiostar have been around for some time but not managed to grow, and the reason is that this is very difficult. It is not easy to succeed in this business.” 


In the same interview, Uitto also threw cold water on claims that Open RAN would make networks cheaper, at least in the short term. “Sometimes people think Open RAN will be cheap,” he said. “No, it’s not. There’s nothing that would make it inherently cheap because it is a 3GPP-compliant base station, but additionally it has the particular software-made open interfaces. In some early versions from the Open RAN challengers, they even had to use FPGAs to make those open interfaces, just as we did in our first 5G products, and that certainly does not make your product cheap.”