SOLiD’s Ken Sandfeld shares O-RAN outlook
The move towards fully-interoperable, multi-vendor radio access networks is more of a marathon than a sprint, with operators and vendors actively engaging in specification development through the O-RAN Alliance and collaborating on an assortment of trials. And while the network economics associated with a commercial-off-the-shelf hardware approach to RAN investment are clear, achieving meaningful scale is likely still a ways in the future.
Here’s where open RAN intersects with two other significant industry trends–operators have largely stepped back from investing in in-building systems for anything other than high-value venues like NFL stadiums or airports; and enterprise owners, through things like private networks built on CBRS spectrum, for instance, now can control their own wireless destiny so to speak.
So, in a climate where enterprises need to invest in wireless systems and have access to spectrum, the thinking is they will look to invest in the most capital efficient manner possible, which would be an open, virtualized RAN, rather than a vendor-specific stack. And penetration of open RAN technologies into the enterprise could serve as a proving ground of sorts before operators adopt the technology across their networks.
For Tier 1 operators, open RAN take is “not going to be a fast adoption. It’s not going to be a slash cut,” Ken Sandfeld, president of SOLiD, told RCR Wireless News in an interview this week. That’s because operators only stand to benefit when there’s a healthy level of competition with the open RAN space, he said. “It needs to be open standards long enough so that multiple competitors can be vying for that business.”
So what is the outlook for open RAN adoption? “I believe the first networks will be directly to the enterprises and the reason is because they can. For the first time in a long time, they have control over their destinies for spectrum. If you’re a customer that’s big enough to take on the challenge of building your own networks, it’s because you have the resources to do it and you have the ability to do it.”
He continued: “Enterprises need solutions they can scale. We need to accomplish what the enterprise and the carrier needs. Giving a carrier a cheaper RAN solution isn’t going to solve the problem,” of decreased in-building/enterprise system investment. “They still can’t afford to deploy. If it means there’s a server that each carrier remotely loads their software in, then so be it, the system can work that way.”