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O-RAN Alliance continues to draw vendor support despite goal of breaking vendor lock-in


Ericsson, SOLiD among newest O-RAN Alliance vendor members

Operator members of the O-RAN Alliance, which is dedicated to creating open interfaces to enable multi-vendor radio site configurations, want to ultimately get around vendor lock-in, hasten deployment time and lower capital costs. Given this goal, why do vendors continue to join the group?

On the carrier side, O-RAN membership includes some of the biggest global service providers among them all four major U.S. operators and multi-national carriers like Telefonica and Orange. Vendor membership runs the gamut from silicon interests to software providers and major infrastructure vendors like Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung and ZTE.

So for vendors, who make money selling proprietary boxes and would prefer to sell end-to-end system, why join O-RAN?

Ericsson joined the group last month and SVP and CTO Erik Ekudden explained, “Our ambition is to actively support and drive discussions and developments around future RAN architectures and open interfaces.” The alliance, he said, “creates an arena for these discussions, complementing other standardization and open-source initiatives in the industry which we are already active in.”

Last week during Mobile World Congress Barcelona, Ken Sandfeld, president of SOLiD Americas, said SOLiD’s membership can help create a more level playing field among vendors of varying size. “It breeds creativity and innovation and it allows different disparate vendors to be able to work together obviously driving down costs.”

The move to 5G has many vectors of change, among them a more IT-centric approach that trades proprietary hardware for more general purpose hardware running virtualized network functions. So once this moves from developing interoperability frameworks to real world deployments, what’s the risk?

Last year during Mobile World Congress Americas, Dell’s Eric Vallone, director of product management in the Service Provider Solutions group, said the goal of groups like ORAN is, “The need for service providers to have options and not be locked into one particular vendor or one particular solution.” The risk, he said, is “Who you gonna call,” when something breaks? “That is the absolute challenge. Operators want openness but do they really want the cost of the openness? My team…is here to solve exactly that problem–to build an infrastructure architecture that allows the service provider to have the open, disaggregated environment. We’re giving [operators]that comfort.”

Nokia’s Head of North America Rick Corker said a mix-and-match equipment situation “in theory” sounds great but noted one top-of-mind problem. “We all have software releases at different times.”

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