Open RAN will account for 58 percent of total RAN capex spending at $32.3 billion and be deployed at 65 percent of all sites by 2026 despite overhype and uncertainty over which standards will prevail, according to a “Open RAN adoption patterns and forecast 2020-2026,” a report by Rethink Technology Research.
Open RAN deployments will occur rapidly across all sectors but will accelerate fastest in small cell environments, especially greenfield rollouts, rather than in macro and micro RANs.
“In almost all cases, open RAN will be deployed progressively rather than as a big bang process,” said Caroline Gabriel, the report’s lead analyst and Rethink’s research director. “Most operators will introduce open interfaces initially to secondary or small cell networks, or to their fronthaul links only. Alternatively they will specify open RAN support in RFPs but choose a single vendor in the first instance at least.”
The report highlights the key role alternative and enterprise deployers will play in driving open RAN in many markets, including specialized divisions within MNOs and telcos. In 2020-2023, only 17 percent of established MNOs will deploy an open RAN for any purpose, while 39 percent of alternative and greenfield deployers will adopt it fully in this early phase. Enterprise small cell networks will be a particularly strong driver and proving ground for open RAN.
The forecasts and commentary are derived from RAN Research’s expert analysis of feedback from a detailed survey of 107 service providers, including 78 MNOs and 29 of those alternative cellular network deployers. This revealed key drivers, which would, if fully proven, accelerate their deployment of open RAN by at least one year, led by need for simplicity of deployment, followed by access to innovation and multivendor interoperability. Reduction in total cost of ownership (TCO) was only in fourth place.
Given such uncertainties, the report sets out best and worst case forecast for deployments of open RAN in the period to 2026, analyzing the factors that will govern which of those two trajectories the market tends towards. Even in the worst-case scenario, open RAN will be deployed at 24 million cell sites by 2026 with the best case being 44 million and the middle most likely total being 35 million.
A major cause of uncertainty, according to the report, is the ongoing debate over standards and technologies. It points to growing opposition to the idea that the standard called O-RAN, which has been heavily backed by Nokia, will be widely adopted as alternatives emerge, such as the SD-RAN project launched in August 2020 by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). The report discusses how such divergence of effort could lead smarter operators to align their open RAN strategies more closely with independent groups like Telecom Infra Project (TIP), and the Small Cell Forum (SCF), which are heavily focused on practical deployment and integration roadmaps. TIP announced a reconfigured open RAN project group at the virtual version of its annual Summit in October 2020.
The report considers these factors and how they could play out as the overall open RAN movement continues to gain momentum in the coming few years. It also examines the regional dimension, given that there will huge disparities in deployments rates between countries and continents. Asia-Pacific excluding China will lead the field at first, especially India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Indonesia, accounting for over 30 percent of deployment in the first two years.
Source: Rethink Technology Research