Aramco Digital and Intel establish Open RAN Development Center in Saudi Arabia

On January 15th, Aramco [1.] Digital and Intel announced their intent to establish Saudi Arabia’s inaugural Open RAN (Radio Access Network) Development Center. The facility is expected to drive innovation, foster technological advancements and contribute to the digital transformation landscape in the Kingdom.

Note 1.  Aramco Digital is a subsidiary of  Aramco, which made a net profit of $94.5 billion on revenues of $372.6 billion for the first nine months of 2023. Aramco spent $806 million on research and development (R&D) for the first 9 months of 2023 – all of which was likely related to its oil and gas business.


The collaborative effort aims to accelerate the development and deployment of Open RAN technologies, helping to enable the Kingdom to build robust and agile telecommunication infrastructure focused on accelerating digitization across industries. This collaboration aims to align with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which focuses on technological advancements and economic diversification.

Open RAN, an evolving paradigm in wireless network architecture, allows for greater flexibility, interoperability and innovation. Aramco Digital brings a deep understanding of the development needs and ambitions of the Kingdom and the opportunities for Open RAN technology deployment, along with a unique perspective of the Kingdom’s economic landscape. Intel, a pioneer in computing and communication technologies, brings its expertise in Open RAN technologies to the collaboration.

According to figures provided in December by analyst firm Omdia, an Informa company, the global RAN market is likely to have generated sales of about $40.2 billion last year. That would represent an 11% decline compared with revenues in 2022. Noting the reluctance of major telcos to spend money on equipment, Nokia recently announced plans to cut up to 14,000 jobs, which would equal 16% of the current total. In February last year, Ericsson, which has also recently complained of a market slowdown, said it would cut 8,500 jobs.

Highlights of the collaboration:

1. **Innovation Hub:** The Open RAN Development Center aims to serve as an innovation hub, fostering collaboration between Aramco Digital and Intel engineers, researchers and industry experts.

2. **Local Talent Development:** The Center aims to contribute to the development of local talent by providing training and hands-on experience in the rapidly evolving field of Open RAN and Edge computing technology.

3. **Economic Impact:** The collaboration aims to contribute to the local economy through technology-driven initiatives, aligning with the broader objectives of Vision 2030.

4. **Global Collaboration:** The collaboration on Open RAN between Aramco Digital and Intel is expected to extend beyond borders, connecting Saudi Arabia to the global landscape of Open RAN and Edge development and deployment.

Aramco Digital’s CEO Tareq Amin (formerly with Rakuten Symphony) said: “This collaboration is a testament to our commitment to helping drive innovation in the Kingdom. The Open RAN Development Center is expected to be a catalyst for digital evolution, providing a platform for collaboration, skill development and the creation of a vibrant technology ecosystem. At the heart of this collaboration is the creation of a vibrant pool of local capabilities for advanced 5G and future 6G technologies.”

“We are pleased to collaborate on Open RAN with Aramco Digital and to combine Intel’s technological prowess in network and edge computing and software with the local insights and industry leadership of Aramco Digital. Together, we aim to accelerate the deployment of edge-native Open RAN solutions in Saudi Arabia and beyond,” said [Sachin Katti, Intel senior vice president and general manager of the Network and Edge Group].

The Open RAN Development Center is planned to commence operations in 2024, marking a milestone in Saudi Arabia’s journey towards a technology-driven future.


Light Reading’s Iain Morris was not optimistic about this initiative. He wrote:

To the people responsible for telecom and tech in Saudi Arabia, open RAN must seem like a decent bet on diversification. After all, that is exactly how the concept is pitched in other countries. If Aramco can produce homegrown 5G goods, Saudi Arabian operators could theoretically spend their money on a local supplier instead of using only Chinese and European ones. Saudi Arabia, moreover, would gain something besides oil to sell overseas.

Aramco Digital’s chances of becoming an international RAN force – if such are its ambitions – are not great. In the west, Saudi Arabia’s dodgy image and reputation do not help. Realpolitik might have recently driven western leaders into an accommodation with Saudi rulers. But network products, in contrast to fossil fuels, can be obtained from other more likeable sources. And protectionist zeal has thrown up dozens of open RAN initiatives. If countries aren’t buying from Nordic or Chinese vendors, many would also rather buy at home. Aramco Digital is unlikely to be high on the list of preferred suppliers.

Evidence so far suggests big operators would also prefer to continue buying most of their products from a single vendor after open RAN is introduced. Doing so leaves “one throat to choke” and means avoiding the hassle and expense of systems integration. But it is prompting former specialists to develop a more comprehensive portfolio of RAN products and more thinly spread their R&D funds. Flush as Aramco Digital is with oil money, the enduring appeal of the single RAN contract will make competing in this market even harder.

 Operators lauding open RAN will also appreciate how important economies of scale have been to the development of relatively low-cost but extremely sophisticated network products. Even if companies like Aramco Digital can acquire some market share, the net effect of adding players to a shrinking sector would be market fragmentation, squeezed R&D budgets and greater inefficiency.

With its resources and government backing, Aramco cannot simply be dismissed. But it may be the latest to find that telecom is stubbornly impervious to change.

About Aramco Digital:

Aramco Digital is the digital and technology subsidiary of Aramco, a global integrated energy and chemicals company. Aramco Digital aims to help drive digital transformation and technological innovation across various sectors.

About Intel:

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) is a world leader in computing innovation. The company designs and builds the essential technologies that serve as the foundation for the world’s computing devices.

*Source: AETOSWire




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