Middle East operators have opened the first regional community lab in collaboration with Telecom Infra Project (TIP) and Intel, following the signing of the Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) MoU last year. The move will accelerate the implementation of Open RAN solutions in their existing telecom networks in order to support the early adoption and development of a robust regional ICT ecosystem.

Two new operators Batelco and Omantel have also signed the Open RAN MoU, joining the e& formerly known as Etisalat Group, stc, Zain Group, Mobily, and du from Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (EITC), in their commitment to deploy Open RAN across their footprint and enhance supreme network experiences for end-users.

The Middle East lab will provide a platform for the parties to jointly deploy open and disaggregated technologies into their networks to optimize the online experiences of businesses and consumers. Flexible, interoperable and standards-based solutions such as OpenRAN present a compelling opportunity for operators to become more efficient in meeting the ever-growing need for high bandwidth, low latency, and advanced connectivity.

The lab will provide shared facilities and access to Intel technologies for members and vendors, and catalyst for OpenRAN deployments.

Through the TIP end-to-end process, operators become empowered to deploy more flexible and resilient networks optimized for specific use cases. By sharing industry knowledge to align and prioritise their technical requirements, TIP participants contribute to the creation of centralized technical roadmaps that will set the direction for the development of new network infrastructure products and solutions. Operators can then leverage TIP’s test and validation process to quickly and easily assess those products and solutions that will best contribute to the transformation of their networks.

Mohamed Al Marzooqi, Vice President, Technology Synergies, said: “More than ever, our customers rely on high-quality connectivity for their daily requirements. The need for such smart connectivity will only increase in the future. I’m delighted to witness more operators from our region partnering with us in our efforts to position the Middle East as a global leader in developing and deploying such innovative network solutions.

“Etisalat is committed to supporting technology and service innovation within the markets where we operate, through our participation in TIP and our partnership with Intel. We strongly believe open technologies present the right prospects to achieve this, while helping enhance the flexibility and efficiency of our networks.”

Nawaf Al Gharabally, Group’s Chief Technology Officer, Zain, said: “We are pleased to welcome Batelco and OmanTel to the MoU. Through broad regional alignment on OpenRAN and standardization over Intel technologies, we will provide a clear demand signal to the industry that reflects the needs of our respective markets and customers. The new [Open RAN Labs] is a testament to this. We will work together through this collaborative hub to find solutions that address the specific use cases we encounter in the Middle East and are an essential component to faster commercial deployments. We urge all regional players to join us in this drive to deliver new and innovative solutions.”

Referring to the operator collaboration, Rashid Mohamed, General Manager Networks, Batelco said: “This collaboration and alignment of operators on OpenRAN is a milestone for the telecommunications ecosystem in the Middle East. It will create a more competitive and robust supply chain, leading to faster 5G deployment, network efficiencies, opportunities for new technology vendors, and unlock advanced services for customers. We are pleased to join other like-minded and leading organizations in amplifying innovative opportunities in the region.”

Bernhard Merwe, CTO, OmanTel commented: “OmanTel is excited to be joining this ground-breaking MoU. This is an initiative that will help us deliver on our mission to provide the highest quality connectivity to our customers while also benefiting from the shared experiences of our community in deploying open network technologies. We see a clear opportunity to enhance the way we work with the vendor community and build a more resilient and diverse ecosystem that benefits the region as well as?our industry.”

Hisham Alabdaly, GM Infrastructure Design, stc said: “By partnering with TIP, Intel and the operator community in the Middle East, we are helping pioneer a new and innovative approach to developing the solutions that align with our strategic goals and best support the present and future needs of our customers. In doing so, we are also supporting the growth of our local ICT sectors because open network technologies like OpenRAN provide a trusted avenue for new entrants in both the hardware and software space to work with service providers.”

Saleem Al Balooshi, CTO, du commented: “du is committed to improving its networks while boosting the digital economy by stimulating greater technological innovation. We are excited to take the next step in accelerating the pace of innovation and promote the development of an open technology that will help to enhance the flexibility, efficiency and security of our networks. This has multiple advantages for the customers as our networks will become highly programmable and automated, so we can foster collaboration and innovation, release new features quickly, provide capacity on demand, automate network management and deliver tailored enterprise solutions.”

Mohammed Al Atawi, VP Technology Governance, Mobily said: “Mobily is already committed to making our vendors active partners in our business operations, and the move towards open network technologies is the next logical step in that journey. We believe the end-to-end process established by the Telecom Infra Project, supported by Intel standard technologies is the best way to ensure we all benefit from the paradigm shift that open and disaggregated technologies represent. We are confident of its cooperative test and validation framework where results and learnings are shared between industry players.”

Referring to the partnerships among regional mobile operators, Caroline Chan, VP, Network and Edge Group & TIP Board Member, Intel said: “This is a great example of how industry collaboration can accelerate the shift toward a software-defined infrastructure at the network edge. A virtualized, Open RAN is an area of tremendous innovation, which can be further propelled by leveraging Intel’s FlexRAN reference architecture with optimized software and hardware components. The lab opens new possibilities to innovate 5G services that can accelerate the digital transformation in the Middle East.”

Vishal Mathur, Global Head of Engagement, Telecom Infra Project highlighted the shared responsibility of each telco operator in the successful deployment of Open RAN. He said: “Regional collaborations on Open RAN development, such as the Middle East MoU and the European MoU, clearly illustrate the growing momentum behind disaggregated technologies in our industry.”

He added: “While specific use cases may differ depending on the region, the need for these technologies is universal. TIP and Intel play a key role in this context, bringing together stakeholders from across the world, such as the MoU signatories, to accelerate the development of a critical mass of open and disaggregated network solutions in response to operators’ needs. We hope to see more regional initiatives that leverage TIP and welcome all industry organizations to join our efforts to advance global connectivity.”?