Source: SDX Central
The convergence of an open radio access network (RAN) framework and the ongoing ascent of cloud computing in network infrastructure and services puts hyperscalers at the forefront of mobile network operations, according to John Baker, SVP of business development at Mavenir.
“I really do believe the hyperscalers are going to become the new telecom providers going forward,” he told SDxCentral in a phone interview.
“Apart from the physical radio that goes on a tower, everything we’re doing now follows the data center model, and these guys know how to manage data centers, software, and applications,” Baker said. “If you look at open RAN essentially as being a collection of applications that run on a server, then it really is falling into their camp.”
Power Flows from Hyperscalers Compute
Indeed, as software permeates every network layer and element and mobile network infrastructure increasingly evolves to adopt webscale architecture, hyperscalers are poised to soon become the most important vendors — and potential threats — for carriers at large.
Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and others hastened their collective rise in mobile operators’ 5G networks last year and 2021 is set to be even more consequential. Cloud providers’ efforts in mobile edge computing, virtualization, and network management orchestration are blossoming throughout the industry and elevating the cloud as a critical component of mobile network architecture.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to where’s the compute and where’s the connectivity to a radio. Right up to the radio head, the IT guys are doing that today,” Baker explained.
Nokia Aims High With Open RAN
The slow but nonetheless budding rise of open RAN is also impacting the strategies and outlook for some of the world’s largest RAN vendors. Nokia has been the most forceful proponent of open RAN among the trio of incumbents in that space, having reframed some of its business model around disaggregated hardware and software, and readying an open RAN portfolio it previously said it would release in 2021.
Behind the scenes, Nokia played a big role in getting specifications set at the O-RAN Alliance and its participation in Rakuten Mobile’s 4G LTE network riding entirely on open RAN portends a growing interest in the technology, according to Baker.
“I personally believe that this could be a great and good direction for Nokia to go in. They’ve got a lot of technology, they’ve certainly been losing focus, if you like, in terms of the market, and I think you’re seeing the effects of them losing the Verizon business for instance. So, in a sense it comes back to focus and quality,” he said.
“I think Nokia will eventually get there. There are no issues with that, it’s just when,” Baker said.
Huawei, the global RAN leader, has shown no interest in embracing open RAN. Ericsson, meanwhile, is more of a mixed bag.
Ericsson Pursues Open RAN With Moderation
The Swedish vendor formally embraced the framework, in part, with the recent introduction of its Cloud RAN offering that it expects to begin shipping by late 2021. But Ericsson’s vision for open RAN remains narrow and largely driven by opportunities in indoor environments and low-threshold requirements for enterprises.
“It is a complement to our existing purpose-built networks, and it offers flexibility and scalability for certain use cases,” Frekrik Jejdling, EVP and head of business area networks, said during a presentation in November 2020. Ericsson’s Cloud RAN, software that virtualizes the compute piece of the RAN, will allow for more automation and virtualize the centralized unit and distributed unit to run on commoditized x86-based hardware, according to the vendor.
Ericsson’s approach, at least thus far, is not enough to convince Baker that the vendor is serious about open RAN. “Ericsson, in my mind today, is becoming more like a Huawei in terms of being protectionist around its offerings,” he said.
“They keep blowing hot and cold about open RAN,” he said. “Cloud RAN was a term that got buried three to four years ago for us, so they’re sort of walking backwards and trying to dream up stuff.”
Ericsson is also participating in open RAN communities like the O-RAN Alliance, but Baker said he believes the company is only involved in those efforts to protect its future by keeping the market locked down with proprietary technology. “This is another Kodak about to happen,” he concluded.