Diversifying Telecoms: The potential of Open RAN

Key findings from the first event in techUK’s Diversifying Telecoms series, part of London Tech Week.

Following its recent decision to remove Huawei from the UK’s 5G networks by 2027, the UK Government announced a new approach to diversification, including investment in and deployment of Open RAN technology. This approach could see the break-up of traditional telecoms architecture into interoperable sub-systems, with different vendors providing differing parts of the system. Our event explored the potential of Open RAN to dramatically improve the resilience of the UK’s vendor supply chain, spur innovation, and open the way for the UK to create a strong leadership position in the development of this global trend.  

Building a more colourful future for our networks 

Attilio Zani, Executive Director at Telecoms Infrastructure Project (TIP), presented TIP’s approach to building and deploying network infrastructure, outlining his optimism for a renewed telecoms ecosystem, as it matches up new and existing demand with supply. TIP’s work began in 2016, before Open RAN became “flavour of the month”, and while not there yet with a plug-and-play situation for Open RAN architecture, the Project aims for a fluid and flexible approach to diversifying the supply chain. Operators will benefit from a sustainable supply chain that increases competition, innovation and the availability of innovation. Getting hands-on and hands-together is key to the building and testing of Open RAN, collaborating across all phases of the product life cycle.  

Time for 5G to transform 

Mavenir is currently the industry’s only end-to-end Cloud Native Network Software Provider. We welcomed Dr. Virtyt Koshi, Senior Vice President and General Manager EMEA to hear Mavenir’s real-world deployment experience of Open and virtualised RAN, and the benefits we could see in the UK market. Virtyt explained that the use of cloud computing brings efficiency and flexibility through hyperscale architecture. For operators, the only limit is your imagination. Mavenir has already deployed commercial uses of Open RAN in enterprise, neutral hosting, mobile broadband and for 5G hotspots, and many other trials underway; in the UK, the provider worked on Vodafone’s Open RAN deployment in Powys, Wales. Virtyt provided some key takeaways on moving from a hardware-centric to software workloads, toward cloud computing resources on demand, and the need for investment in operation readiness and recruitment by operators, suppliers, and system integrators.  

How the UK can become an Open RAN leader  

The operator perspective was then outlined as we were joined by Scott Petty, Chief Technology Officer at Vodafone UK, which has been a member of TIP since its inception, and is currently an active participant in Open RAN around the world. Scott explained that Open RAN is a major change, but there is significant work to do. For its lab testing and trials, Vodafone has had to invest in new capabilities and skills, though some skills are transferable, as seen in Vodafone’s move to cloud native in its core network. Open RAN is a real opportunity for supply chain diversification and innovation, though the ecosystem needs further development. To be a leader in Open RAN, the UK needs: 

  1. To scale opportunities in the market – Government and industry must work together; 
  2. Co-investment in R&D, specifically to encourage UK-based tech companies; 
  3. Increase opportunities in the semiconductor space, and work on open standards. 

Scott also suggested that there is no reason that Open RAN can’t play a part in the Shared Rural Network, if technologies evolve as the procurement process completes.  

Panel discussion 

Following the presentations, we moved to a panel discussion on what the UK needs to develop the Open RAN ecosystem. All agreed on the importance for open standards, and a commitment to truly open interfaces. Open RAN and the broader move to diversify the UK telecoms infrastructure would lead to a more resilient and secure network, with fewer outages. However, the need for diversification could also be seen transcend 5G, enhancing networks in the long-term. Simon Saunders from Ofcom supported this view: Open RAN is a broader evolution with other new mobile architectures in the pipeline, and more infrastructure sharing. Diversification will mean new players in the supply chain, but also traditional vendors will need to transition and innovate. Skills will become crucial, with more recruitment required.  

Our panel agreed that government is best placed to make an environment suitable for private companies to test and develop innovative solutions. Existing initiatives, like the 5G Testbeds and Trials programme, were lauded as helping develop an open innovation platform. Government incentives would also help with standards, as well as creating the predictability operators need for investment, and making it easier for operators who are well-placed to take advantage of the potential of Open RAN.  

Thank you to our speakers and panellists (Wassim Chourbaji – Qualcomm; Simon Saunders – Ofcom; Dez O'Connor – CISCO) and our panel moderator Dr. Dimitra Simeonidou, Professor of High Performance Networks at the University of Bristol. You can access Mavenir's presentation in the link below. 

Our next event in the series takes place on Tuesday 20 October — Diversifying Telecoms: Options for the UK