Telefonica articulated its approach to open RAN, as it announced a partnership with Japan-based operator Rakuten Mobile to jointly develop the technology along with 5G core networks and supporting operational systems.

Enrique Blanco, Telefonica’s CTIO, explained in an online briefing the evolution to 5G and the traditional approach to networks are not enough to build an AI-based system and the required OSS.

“This is a massive opportunity for all of us. This is an inclusive approach and how we can guarantee we are building the network for the future.”

In addition to defining the interfaces, the companies are exploring procurement of hardware and software, Blanco said.

Rakuten Mobile CTO Tareq Amin emphasised the partnership is not just about opening the interfaces: “It’s about the future possibilities when these networks become fully autonomous.”

“What makes a difference is automation, as it enables much needed operational savings. We’re going to spend a lot of energy around joint development of automation, especially what we call OSS transformation to move away from legacy systems.”

Amin noted a large global operator like Telefonica brings credibility to the open RAN ecosystem and boosts procurement.

“Vendor selection typically takes a long time in the telecoms industry compared with the web-scale companies. Maybe together with Telefonica the discussions with vendors might change a bit and require us to create new business models.”

Telefonica plans to introduce open RAN in three phases, with pilots starting this year, initial rollouts in 2021 and mass deployments in 2022. “I’m extremely convinced we’ll hit these targets, but we are trying to be conservative,” Blanco said.

From 2022 to 2025, up to half of Telefonica’s 5G deployments will use open RAN, he added.

The operator is considering using the Rakuten Communications Platform, though Blanco said this is a commercial not technical decision.

Telefonica was a founder of the Open RAN Policy Coalition, and previously partnered with five companies including Altiostar and Intel to foster the approach.