BT Group chief architect Neil McRae tempered claims adoption of open RAN would provide immediate cost savings, as he noted the operator supported the approach but saw several hurdles before commercial deployment would be viable.

At a media briefing McRae said operators being able to reap cost savings in the foreseeable future from open RAN was “one of the big myths right now,” adding he “look[s] at that with a lot of scepticism,” citing the price of chips and other components required.

The network guru noted BT had been working on assessing the capabilities and benefits of open RAN for years despite being relatively quiet on the architecture compared to some UK rivals and operators in other markets, who have this week hyped various initiatives and test centres.

Although stating the cost-saving case of the approach had not been proven, McRae said open RAN would likely offer benefits including increasing supply chain options and in helping provide new customer experiences.

“Does it provide a future where it may open a path where there might be new suppliers and vendors who create more competition and innovation? For sure,” he added. “It’s that innovation which excites us the most – our ability to provide more exciting services to customers is what we’re really focused on with open RAN.”

Here, McRae pointed to the potential to help it “bring the network to new places,” citing locations traditionally difficult to bring coverage in, such as healthcare, stadia and unwieldy structures like multi-storey car parks.

Should it deploy open RAN, McRae added, it would “not necessarily increase the number of suppliers we use,” pointing to the role of system integrators.

He also noted there were still several hurdles to clear before commercial rollout of the technology would be viable for BT.

This is not the first time the operator’s executives have tempered excitement on the technology. Earlier this year, BT Networks CTO Howard Watson was cautious on the short term prospects of deploying open RAN equipment in its network until the latter part of the decade, when he expected it to play a “more critical and significant role”.