In a letter to the FCC, Jared M. Carlson, Ericsson’s Vice President, Government Affairs and Public Policy expressed his company’s concern with the O-RAN Alliance. In particular, an August report of the European Commission could not determine whether the O-RAN Alliance was complying with various WTO criteria, including transparency and open procedures, and also noted a concern that any one of the five founding members could effectively veto any proposed specification.
Some O-RAN Alliance specifications are proceeding slowly, according to Ericsson. One reason why can be explained simply by the resources devoted to the group. For example, O-RAN front-haul meetings (a more mature O-RAN specification) sees about 60 members attending, with only about ten members actively contributing. In contrast, in a typical 3GPP RAN Plenary, there are approximately 600 members delivering 1000 contributions per quarter.
The lack of completed O-RAN specifications means that any such deployments require individual vendors to come to mutual agreements—a far cry from the “plug-and-play” vision of a complete set of Open RAN network interface standards. Light Reading referred to that months ago as another form of “vendor lock-in.”
Mike Murphy, CTO, Ericsson North America told the FCC that Ericsson has dedicated a number of resources to making O-RAN Alliance specifications successful, delivering about 1000 of 7000 total specifications,” the company told the FCC, citing Murphy’s presentation. “Indeed, without Ericsson’s contributions to the O-RAN Alliance, the timeline for more fully developed standards would likely be even further out in the future.”
Regarding security, Mr. Murphy noted that, again, Ericsson is one the top three contributors to the O-RAN Alliance Security working group. Yet there are no security specifications from the O-RAN Alliance Security group—there is only a set of requirements. He also noted that the performance of Open RAN does not compare to (vendor specific, purpose built) integrated RAN. Even if the so called 40% cost saving estimates were true on a per-unit cost basis, the two different types of RAN equipment would not deliver the same level of performance.
Furthermore, Ericsson’s own estimates have indicated that Open RAN is more expensive than integrated RAN given the need for more equipment to accomplish what purpose-built solutions can deliver and increased systems integration costs. That’s quite shocking considering that many upstarts (e.g. Rakuten, Inland Cellular, etc) have stated Open RAN is cheaper. For example, “Open RAN will allow for cost savings over proprietary architectures,” Open RAN vendor Mavenir declared in its own recent meeting with FCC officials. The company said open RAN equipment can reduce network providers’ operating expenses by 40% and total cost of ownership by 36%.
Ericsson isn’t the only 5G company cautioning the FCC on Open RAN. Nokia – another major 5G equipment vendor – made similar arguments in a recent presentation to the FCC. “While there are some vendors that only offer open RAN architecture and/or limited RAN products, Nokia is able to provide a choice of classical or open RAN depending on the desires of our customers,” Nokia explained. “To date, the vast majority of service providers have chosen classical RAN solutions, deferring investment in open RAN until further commercial maturity has been demonstrated.”
Nokia also took issue with the notion that open RAN equipment is dramatically cheaper than traditional, classic RAN equipment. “The draft cost catalog also demonstrates that there are not cost savings being offered through open RAN equipment estimates compared to integrated RAN estimates,” Nokia wrote to the FCC in April following the release of the agency’s initial, draft pricing catalogue.
Many telecom professionals, like John Strand, argue that open RAN is not yet mature. They contend that government mandates that would require the use of the technology – in a furtherance of geopolitical goals – would be misguided. “The US has clearly demonstrated that open and intense competition, not government mandates, is the most effective way to mobilize the telecom industry to enable unprecedented innovation and value creation,” Ericsson told the FCC. “The US led the world in 4G and the ‘app economy’ not by insisting on any particular network standard, but by creating an open, predictable and attractive investment climate for all industry stakeholders and allowing operators to select the best technology based on their needs.”
Mr. Murphy concluded that the Commission and the U.S. government more generally should continue to “keep their eyes on the prize.” Notably, ensuring that the U.S. continues to smooth the way for 5G deployments will continue to pay dividends for the U.S. economy, with over $500 Billion added to the U.S. economy from 5G-enabled business, is the critical job of the day. The key step the Commission can take is to continue to foster the deployment of 5G.
Addendum -Tuesday 23 November 2021:
German study warns of security risks in Open RAN standards
Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN) based on the standards of the O-RAN Alliance carry significant security risks in their current form, according to a study commissioned by Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). The analysis was carried out by the Barkhausen Institute, an independent research institution, in cooperation with the group Advancing Individual Networks in Dresden and the company Secunet Security Networks.
The implementation of Open RAN standards by the O-RAN Alliance is based on the 5G-RAN specifications developed by the 3GPP. Using a best / worst case scenarios analysis, the German study demonstrated that the Open RAN standards have not yet been sufficiently specified in terms of ‘security by design’, and in some cases carry security risks. The BSI called for the study’s findings to be taken into account in the further development of the Open RAN ecosystem, in order to support the rapid growth of the market with security from the start.
The open RAN project is supported by all three mobile operators in Germany – Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefonica – as well as the 1&1, which is building a fourth network in the country. The German government also recently awarded EUR 32 million in subsidies to support further development of the open RAN technology.