Last month saw the return of MWC21 Barcelona, the most anticipated event in the telecoms industry calendar. No surprises, then that we saw myriad announcements and developments in the last month from a wide spectrum of topics.

We decided to shed some light on developments in two of the most hotly debated topics in the industry right now, open RAN and public cloud.

Open RAN going global
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As of today, 73 operators from 38 markets have either deployed or committed to open RAN deployments. Scanning through the list of operators and their geographic presence, it is clear the approach is now going global, touching developed and developing markets alike (see chart, below, click to enlarge).

Moves including Axiata Group announcing plans to deploy in multiple countries by end 2021, MTN detailing plans across its footprint, or a partnership between Bharti Airtel and Tata Group to deploy Indian systems, highlight the rapid global spread.

The momentum continues in other parts of the world also with the UK government funding a 5G testing laboratory and Deutsche Telekom switching on its O-RAN town with Massive MIMO radio units for high performance. The foundation of open RAN was laid with the creation of the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) in 2016, but 2021 is clearly the year when we are seeing global momentum.

We saw many interesting developments in the open RAN space in the last month, some of which are highlighted below:

  • 12 July: Middle East operators join forces to implement solutions
  • 9 July: Vodafone teams with Mavenir to develop small cell solution for indoor connectivity
  • 2 July: UK government launched £30 million competition for deployment in the country
  • 29 June: Google Cloud joins O-RAN Alliance
  • 24 June: Mavenir, Qualcomm to develop indoor and outdoor solutions
  • 17 June: Algar Telecom to conduct tests on its 4G network

So what?
All the above points towards growing momentum and deployments going global. Does this mean operators which have not yet advanced their open RAN plans need to jump on the bandwagon now?

The answer depends on the current situation and requirements of each operator. Their decisions will be driven by factors including where they are in the lifecycle of their legacy networks; their capex versus opex split in networks investment; and whether they are looking to upgrade brownfield networks or build a greenfield 5G network.

GSMA Intelligence’s Operator in Focus Network Transformation survey found operators also see ownership/coordination, lack of internal expertise and integration into existing systems as the top challenges for adoption of open RAN. While cost saving is often advocated as one of the benefits, a lack of clarity regarding return on investment acts as a hurdle.

The above challenges do not mean operators must necessarily reject open RAN. Rather, they need to be aware of their requirements and network evolution plans. And in the present, operators still need to get the ball rolling by forging partnerships allowing them to undertake R&D on existing networks, understand use cases with open RAN deployments, and undertake trials to better inform their deployment decisions.

Are the clouds over public cloud clearing?
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What did leading public cloud evangelist, Danielle Royston, tout for the sector at MWC21? She said simply “go all in”.

It is natural for an evangelist to make such a statement, but she backed it up by advocating the perceived benefits of using hyperscalers and public cloud, namely massive reductions in the total cost of ownership, scalability and flexibility, and employing the regional and local presence of data centres to make edge computing viable.

There were plenty of public cloud partnerships being announced by operators prior to 2021. Yet, the announcement from US new entrant Dish Network in April and the presence of Cloud City at MWC21 Barcelona highlights the momentum we now see in adoption.

The increasing intersection of telecoms and public cloud is reflected in the below announcements and is also mirrored in the forthcoming MWC21 LA theme of Telco Cloud.

  • 5 July: Dtac with AWS unveiled a proof-of-concept 5G Private Network solution for enterprises
  • 30 June: AT&T to shift 5G core to Microsoft Azure
  • 29 June: Google Cloud and Ericsson collaborate to develop 5G and edge cloud solutions
  • 29 June: Google Cloud joins O-RAN Alliance
  • 28 June: Swisscom partners AWS for cloud services
  • 24 June: Reliance Jio partners with Google Cloud for 5G
  • 21 June: Dish Network announced its plans to run Nokia’s standalone 5G core software on AWS
  • 16 June: Microsoft launches Azure Private MEC

So what?
There is clear momentum behind public cloud in the telecoms industry with progress on multiple, fronts from network related developments to co-developing enterprise-related solutions and hyperscalers working on future-proof solutions.

But the industry is still divided on the killer use case. Where some see latency as the benefit (using data centres for edge computing) of using public cloud, others see the same as a risk of using shared space.

Beyond this, adoption faces headwinds from the speculated risks to privacy and data security. The data sovereignty rules in some markets will also make it difficult for many operators to fully embrace the public cloud.

However, the multitude of enterprise opportunities in the 5G era are only expected to be supported by the new cloud native architecture powered by AI solutions and edge computing, made possible using the cloud. This makes it inevitable for operators to embrace cloud technology: the choice is simply between public or private cloud.

To capitalise on the benefits of public cloud and overcome the highlighted risks and challenges, the industry must work together. A wait and watch approach does not always guarantee success, but working together and co-creating systems certainly does.

The transition to public cloud will be a gradual and phased process made possible with initiatives from across the cloud ecosystem. Hyperscalers are also taking initiatives to make this happen for operators: Google Cloud joining the O-RAN Alliance; Azure launching private MEC; and AWS introducing local data processing on outposts are sign of things to come.

All the above analysis is based on news curated by GSMA Intelligence’s team of analysts and taken from their Industry Updates feed, available here.

– Radhika Gupta – head of data acquisition, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.