AT&T set a goal to lead the US in the deployment of open RAN, detailing a five-year collaboration with Ericsson which could see the operator spend up to $14 billion in all and which appeared to be a hammer blow to existing network vendor Nokia.

Igal Elbaz, AT&T SVP of technology and network services and network CTO, told journalists it aims for 70 per cent of its network traffic to run on open platforms by late 2026.

Elbaz noted while Ericsson will be the foundation of its open RAN platform, AT&T plans to include other vendors, though Nokia does not appear to be among them despite currently providing some equipment to the operator.

In a joint statement, AT&T and Ericsson explained Fujitsu would have a role to play, with the operator expecting to have fully integrated open RAN sites from the pair beginning in 2024.

Corning, Dell Technologies and Intel were also cited in the announcement, with the trio due to begin contributing to AT&T’s goals from 2025.

When asked about Nokia, Elbaz explained the “collaboration is with Ericsson”, meaning the vendor will be AT&T’s “base platform”.

He noted AT&T would use dual-mode Ericsson radios compatible with C-Band and 3.45GHz spectrum.

Change of tack
Ericsson has been resistant to open RAN, but Elbaz stated a shift in the vendor’s roadmap “satisfied what we wanted to accomplish”.

“I believe I was pretty consistent saying all the time that for brownfield networks, or established networks, the only way to get to open is actually opening up the incumbent vendors in the industry. Ericsson is one of them,” Elbaz said.

He argued the partnership will benefit the broader industry, although it remains to be seen what it will mean for smaller open RAN vendors including NEC or Mavenir.

Roy Chua, founder and principal of research outfit AvidThink, told Mobile World Live the deal provides AT&T with the continued “stability and backing of a major established vendor”, while opening the door to the potential benefits of disaggregation and additional APIs for internal innovation”.

The deal could prove timely for Ericsson, which recorded a drop in earnings during Q3 and warned macroeconomic uncertainty could impact its bottom line in 2024.