Operator heavyweights Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica and Vodafone Group established a collaboration covering the rollout and development of open RAN technology, in a bid to ensure the continent keeps up with early pacesetters, the US and Japan.

In a joint statement, the operators detailed the signing of an MoU covering “their individual commitment” to implementing open RAN across Europe, with the aim of creating an interoperable market and ensuring the availability for a timely deployment in the continent.

They plan to work with existing and new ecosystem partners, industry bodies including the O-RAN Alliance and Telecom Infra Project, and European authorities “to ensure open RAN reaches competitive parity with traditional RAN solutions”.

The quartet increased their respective commitments to open networking in 2020.

Vodafone, a major backer for a few years now, in November 2020 detailed plans to deploy open RAN equipment at 2,600 networks sites in the UK by 2027, while Orange outlined plans to open a TIP Community Lab in Paris focused on trialling the technology.

Telefonica struck a partnership with Rakuten Mobile covering ecosystem developments while Deutsche Telekom continued calls for the inclusion of laws related to open RAN, claiming operators were becoming more independent from hardware manufacturers.

Global race
Orange’s global director of radio innovation Olivier Simon told Mobile World Live the continent’s major operators were as committed to open RAN as rivals across the world, but some regions were “already ahead of Europe”.

“In the US, you can see a lot of different companies really embracing the open RAN concept. In Japan, we have the same situation. In Europe, we need a strong push, we need an ecosystem, and we need to be really clear as operators that open RAN is the future,” he said.

Simon added the European Commission and national governments were the targets of the operators’ collaborative message, and it was inviting these bodies to fund R&D, lab tests and to help small companies grow.

“Public authorities need to be conscious about how important this breakthrough is,” said Simon.

Simon noted other European operators were also free to join the collaboration, while it had not sought any vendors to join the pact.

Addressing the role of major European vendors Ericsson and Nokia, Simon lauded the fact the pair had also committed to the technology, while noting open RAN was both a “threat and an opportunity” for them.