27 May 2021

On 27 May, EIF organised a virtual debate on ‘Open RAN’ to discuss this key development for mobile networks. The debate, hosted by MEP and EIF Chair Pilar del Castillo, was moderated by EIF Director General Maria Rosa Gibellini and heard the views of the following experts:

- Pearse O'Donohue, Director for the Future Networks Directorate, DG CONNECT, European Commission
- Nishant Batra, Chief Strategy and Technology Officer, Nokia
- Luis Jorge Romero, Director General, ETSI
- Michele Gamberini, Chief Innovation and Information Officer, TIM

Open RAN

MEP del Castillo opened proceedings by stating that, for Open RAN (ORAN) supporters, it is a key development that will foster innovation at the network service level and increase supply chain diversity and competition. On the other hand, the MEP added, for those more sceptical, Open RAN would imply a huge number of investments and coordination, raising also concerns over security and responsibility. In Ms del Castillo’s opinion, Open RAN is also about geopolitical strategy implications, not just network architecture, as the US and Japan are strongly pushing for this development.

Pearse O’Donohue brought forward the perspective of the European Commission and reiterated from the start that the Commission is focused on the timely deployment of a secure 5G across Europe, which will be “a crucial enabler for competitiveness and digital transformation”. Considering the geopolitical and digital leadership implications of Open RAN, it has attracted a lot of attention. However, the challenges that it brings (cybersecurity, sustainability, digital autonomy) are complex politically and more in-depth analysis is needed. The targets confirmed in the Digital Decade must not be affected by geopolitical issues. From the technical point of view, the Commission welcomes the innovation that Open RAN represents, as it has always supported fostering competition particularly if it brings enhanced flexibility.

Mr O’Donohue reiterated the European Commission’s view that standards should be based on transparency and openness, and Open RAN solutions that reduce the risk of fragmentation allows work to be done in interoperability and does not hinder the suppliers’ access. He called for caution in order to not undermine the market position of Europe’s major global players: “We have to consolidate EU leadership while maintaining the advantages that Europe already has”.

Nishant Batra with Nokia presented a few critical steps that are required in order for ORAN systems to be viable: only one set of specifications, no compromise on features, performance and security, non-mandated ORAN markets and public funding that supports European businesses in addressing the baseline criteria, specification development, interoperability, conformance, security and parity. In Mr Batra’s view, as telco standards require huge developments in R&D, all beneficiaries of the standard must contribute to this development or take the required licenses: “ORAN cannot be a free ride for new market entries”. The ORAN revolution, Mr Batra added, needs to be done right, at the right time and in the right way, as we cannot degrade the global competitiveness of our networks, by going too fast or by bypassing critical baseline criteria.

Luis Jorge Romero underlined the importance of standards and the huge investment that goes into making sure these are right and ensure interoperability. Through well-defined standards, the market will become more open and broader, bringing innovation and competition, avoiding market fragmentation. The whole ecosystem that comes with interoperability is fundamental. Mr Romero called for collaboration and resource sharing, in order to make sure that the outcome is the one expected. ETSI will continue to support the growth in standardization around 3GPP and welcome the new standardization challenges.

From TIM’s point of view, Open RAN is a real revolution and will change the way in which mobile networks are designed, implemented, maintained and optimised. Michele Gamberini shared with the audience a few benefits that ORAN would bring, notably the possibility of replacing a closed product funded on proprietary hardware and software with an architecture based on open and modular components or the use of AI and Machine Learning technologies to automatically adapt radio configuration and parameters. Moreover, this architecture should bring to a faster implementation of cloud and edge computing and to higher energy efficiency and, by boosting the scalability and operational agility, it will result in faster deployment of new 5G networks.

In conclusion, Mr Gamberini stated that this innovation will enable Europe to grow and innovate at a faster pace and the full support and firm commitment of the European institutions is needed to allow EU companies to keep investing in this project and let Europe seize this opportunity.

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