The report from Analysys Mason, on behalf of five major European telcos, urgers EU policy makers to adopt additional measures to foster the burgeoning technology
At the start of the year, five major European telcos – Orange, Vodafone, Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom, and TIM – all signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate in the development and integration of Open RAN technology.
Since then, each of these operators have taken various steps to progress the vendor neutral, disaggregated infrastructure tech, from limited deployments in live networks to various testing facilities. In fact, just last week, Orange opened their own Open RAN Integration Center in Paris to provide a test bed for potential vendor partners.
One of the most interesting elements of this lab’s inauguration was the extent to which Orange CTO Michael Trabbia spoke about Open RAN in terms of being vital for European technological sovereignty, suggesting that the continent needed to “remain at the forefront of competition and the evolution of networks” using the new technology.
Today, the reasons behind Trabbia’s decision to emphasise European technology so heavily have become somewhat more apparent, with the Open RAN operator quintet today releasing a new report, pushing Europe to urgently prioritise further Open RAN development.
According to the report, Europe has just 13 major Open RAN players, compared to the rest of the world’s 56, and has a serious risk of “falling behind North America and Asia in the development and deployment of next generation networks.”
“Policy in the U.S. and Japan, among other countries, already strongly backs Open RAN. The U.S. has earmarked more than $1.5 bn to fund Open RAN, and Japan offers financial incentives and tax benefits for companies which develop, supply, and deploy related equipment,” explained Caroline Gabriel, Research Director at Analysys Mason. “While there are some positive examples at national level, for example Germany, today, the European Union as a whole is falling woefully short of providing the necessary support for Open RAN, putting at risk the future viability of a European ecosystem able to compete with other regions in the world.”
The report, entitled ‘Building an Open RAN ecosystem for Europe’, lists five policy recommendations, reproduced below, which the operators believe will help create a vibrant European ecosystem.
1. Ensuring high-level political support for Open RAN. Europe needs to talk with a common voice and identify Open RAN as a strategic priority.
2. The European Commission creating a European Alliance on Next Generation Communication infrastructures and a roadmap for innovation as it has done for Cloud and Semiconductors.
3. Policymakers providing funding and tax incentives to operators, vendors and start-ups to support the development of European solutions along the entire Open RAN value chain, based on public-private partnerships, testbeds and open labs.
4. Promoting European leadership in standardisation. Globally harmonised standards ensure openness and interoperability.
5. Working with international partners to promote a secure, diverse, and sustainable digital and ICT supply chain.
Ultimately, the biggest issue here seems to be the lack of a European ecosystem, not only for Open RAN technology itself but also many of the key adjacent technologies, like semiconductors and the cloud.
Some progress has been made by the EU to improve this situation in various fields; earlier this year, for example, EU Commissioner Thierry Breton met with the CEO’s of Intel and TSMC Europe to try and encourage semiconductor fabs to be built in Europe, a move that ultimately bore fruit.
But unlike the issue of semiconductors, highlighted by the shortage of the last 18 months, Open RAN itself is not yet viewed as a pan-European imperative. Whether this report can change that remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Open RAN development elsewhere around the world continues to progress at a steady pace. The Telecom Infra Project also announced just yesterday that it had facilitated 35 Open RAN trials in various forms, featuring 29 different operators in 20 countries.
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