Fyuz 2023: Challenges and opportunities for open and disaggregated networks

Event recap by techUK's Sophie James, Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy

This October, I was delighted to attend Telecom Infra Project’s Fyuz conference in Madrid. I was attending as both a panellist, to discuss Neutral Host In-Building Solutions, and a supporter of a number of techUK members active in the Open RAN community. While it was my visit to Fyuz, and having interacted with TIP through our Diversifying Telecoms campaign, I could see a notable shift from pure Open RAN to more open and disaggregated telecoms domains such as Open Wi-Fi, open packet transport, and more solutions-based workstreams.

In this insight I will summarise some of the keynotes, panels and fireside chats I tuned into, and outline the themes – or rather open questions – that remain in the acceleration of open and disaggregated networks across the world.

Ericsson enters the room

Ericsson is set to revolutionise the telecom landscape with plans to supply cloud-native networks using Open RAN solutions. This strategic shift promises improved network automation, AI integration, and revenue generation. The company will leverage software-defined networks and prioritise application development. Ericsson has 1 million Open RAN-ready radio units, and this transition will occur gradually, with full software integration expected in 2024. They've been actively involved in the O-RAN Alliance and, along with Nokia, emphasise the importance of open interfaces, cost-efficiency, and high-performance networks. The announcement was seen as a bold move in the Open RAN space, and a development for telecoms that is worth our attention in its promise of agile, efficient, and innovative networks.

Vodafone's Open RAN play

Using a keynote slot to full effect Vodafone reiterated its steadfast dedication to the Open RAN movement by announcing its upcoming RFQ for Open RAN solutions across 170,000 sites. Both Andrea Dona and Yago Tenorio (also Chair of the Telecom Infra Project) outlined their commitment to Open RAN, and other innovative infra sharing initiatives the operator is piloting in Italy and Romania, with a further announcement on a collaboration with ARM for new OR chipsets. Dona noted that advanced silicon semiconductors will play a crucial role in its OR innovations.

Overcoming significant challenges to Open RAN adoption

There seemed to be a mixed view on the health of Open RAN adoption. Mavenir’s John Baker – who recently outlined his view on our techUK podcast – remained positive that the vendor ecosystem was growing and there are signs that Open RAN is making a difference in large public networks. It is perhaps the lack of real-life data that keeps some operators on the fence about Open RAN. Maria Lema from Weaver Labs shined a stark spotlight on the absence of a developer community participating in the telecoms ecoysystem, and cautioned against Open RAN becoming just a deployment model, not a real opening up of the networks.

AT&T’s Rob Soni recognised the time it can take for operators to make decisions, but equally, the notable investments made in R&D, with 1 in 3 investment dollars being spent on testing and integration. The key question is who manages the system integration with Open RAN? Is the operators themselves? Does this duplicate efforts? It was interesting to note the consistent focus on innovation – and what Soni called the “innovation dilemma” in his panel – particularly as the pace of innovation across software and hardware development is happening at different rates.

Other panels touched on and my conversations also explored:

  • Is it a cultural or mindset shift that’s the key to unlocking open networks? The technical work is advancing nicely, but openness to new ideas and ways of working – such as using AI in telco networks – seems more nascent at this stage.
  • Many identified the potential of automation, particularly with advancing Open RAN platforms. Automation hasn’t been there from day one, which is a challenge.
  • Could vendors and operators share more information and data to minimise scepticism? Not doing so risks fragmentation.

The policymakers’ perspectives

Switching gears to a more policy-focused discussion, Tuesday’s keynote on the main stage included the views of the US (Amanda Toman from NTIA and Mehnaz Ansari – Senior Regional Rep for the US Trade and Development Agency), Japan (Koji Ouchi from Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and the UK (Catherine Page – Deputy Director of Future Telecoms at DSIT). Amanda Toman outlined the US objectives with its Innovation Fund – a $1.5 billion grant programme to inject investment in R&D, ultimately aiming to get Open RAN to the same level of performance as integrated solutions, and cost parity. She went on to explain the Minimal Viable Profile for Open RAN, helping to enable interoperability. Japan – in its push for Open RAN adoption – underlined the importance of competition and why it brought in tax incentives, provided testing facilities and engaged with international partners.

Catherine Page set out the UK approach across five activities:

  1. Set a clear policy direction on diversification of the supply chain, alongside its Open RAN principles
  2. R&D investment delivered through the Open Networks Programme
  3. Supported and established neutral labs, such as SONIC
  4. Industry engagement
  5. International activities with trusted partners

Global Coalition on Telecommunications (GCOT)

On 5 October 2023, the UK announced it has joined forces with lead leading nations to strengthen coordination on telecoms security, resilience and innovation in a new global coalition called GCOT. Together with Australia, Canada, Japan and the US, the UK will use the coalition to help ensure communications networks can remain resilient and adaptable when confronted with challenges ranging from supply chain disruption to cyber attacks, strengthening the country’s ability to stay connected at the most critical times.

The coalition will also explore opportunities for closer coordination in areas such as R&D, information sharing and international outreach. Through these initiatives the coalition seeks to advance several shared objectives which include promoting growth opportunities for industry and enabling dialogue between policymakers, business, and academia.

Neutral Hosts and In-Building Solutions

I was honoured to speak on a breakout session panel with Dean Bubley, Kunal Bajaj (CloudExtel), Paul Choiseul (American Tower), Shirish Nagaraj (Corning) and Michel Chbat (Nokia) that explored the use of neutral hosts for indoor connectivity solutions. We discussed the definition of a neutral host as a core concept, who pays for these solutions, some specific use cases, and the intersection of private networks and neutral hosts and the UK’s leading role via JOTS in specifying NH architectures.

Thanks to John Hartin and David Nowicki for the invite to Fyuz, it was a memorable event and glad to see techUK members there in full effect. ‘Til next time Madrid.



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Contact the team

Sophie Greaves

Sophie Greaves

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Tales Gaspar

Tales Gaspar

Programme Manager, UK SPF and Satellite, techUK

Matthew Wild

Programme Assistant - Markets, techUK

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