Events

Annnnd in this corner: Open RAN readiness!

By
July 5, 2022
5
minute read

Every great matchup has an origin story.

In the case of a recent debate between Rakuten Symphony CMO Geoff Hollingworth, Monica Paolini of Senza-Fili Consulting and IDC analyst Daryl Schoolar about how open mobile networks should be, you can trace the conversation all the way back to comments heard on a panel at Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2022.

Mike Thelander of Signals Research Group and Paolini were in agreement at that time that Rakuten Symphony’s approach to open RAN didn’t necessarily fall under the truest definition of open. Paolini specifically referenced “openness at the equipment level but closure at a higher level,” suggesting the idea was counter to having everything truly open.

Soon after, Rakuten Symphony CMO Geoff Hollingworth flagged the comments in a LinkedIn post, sharing his perspective on what “true” open RAN is. Paolini, being the great sport she is, then offered to advance the conversation – a particularly hot topic in the industry right now – in a public setting.

She had the perfect venue for it too: Senza-Fili’s recurring Sparring Partners sessions.

If you haven’t checked out that conversation, a full video and transcript are available.

For a full hour, Hollingworth, Paolini and Schoolar (with some help from a very engaged audience), debated the ins, outs and gray areas of “open.”

Straight talk on open cost vs. performance

The conversation was devoid of marketing platitudes, homing in immediately on the simple idea that open in telecom is really about choice in the supply chain and that the parameters of choice are defined by economic alignments of underlying business models.

“The mindset with which Rakuten came to market was internet and services focused… It doesn’t take an army, but rather, a small number of good people with the right software and internet skillsets.”

– Geoff Hollingworth, CMO, Rakuten Symphony

When the debate turned to cost benefits, Hollingworth sought to throw cold water on the idea that because open is cheaper it must mean low quality.

“Completely not true,” he said. “We’ve proven in Japan that RAN quality is at least at parity with traditional approaches.”

Paolini level set the conversation by reminding that Open RAN cannot have a narrow definition and that what it means to any given operator depends on which elements must be brought together to serve a function and deliver performance while also making financial sense.

Is Open RAN ready for prime time?

Perhaps the largest focus of the debate centered around Open RAN readiness.

Hollingworth cheekily introduced the subject as the “elephant in the room” lamenting the common “is Open RAN ready” refrain, which is used often in regard to brownfield deployment scenarios.

“Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are invested in new network builds and operations. What percentage do you want to invest in something new? That's the question of risk appetite. Rakuten Mobile in Japan, given its scenario, invested 100%. This isn’t realistic for everyone, but once it’s determined how much to invest, the most important thing one can do is learn from that investment so a determination can be made whether to increase or decrease as time progresses.”

Schoolar had his reservations about whether Open RAN is 100% ready, citing Rakuten Mobile as a special case that’s not easily repeatable.

Hollingworth challenged this sentiment, citing the age of the technology, its proven performance at scale, high density coverage, with an increasingly diverse supply chain ready to support it. He underscored that readiness comes down to a mindset and incentivization to change and do something different, acknowledging that any new journey can be very hard and so stakeholders must be ready for what is to come.

“The mindset with which Rakuten came to market was internet and services focused,” said Hollingworth. “It doesn’t take an army, but rather, a small number of good people with the right software and internet skillsets.”

Open debate shifting as data steers the story

While there was a healthy amount of agreement on the call during the session, the spirited discussion showed that there remains a range of perspectives on what open means to telecom and how it should be embraced.

“Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are invested in new network builds and operations. What percentage do you want to invest in something new? That's the question of risk appetite. Rakuten Mobile in Japan, given its scenario, invested 100%. This isn’t realistic for everyone, but once it’s determined how much to invest, the most important thing one can do is learn from that investment so a determination can be made whether to increase or decrease as time progresses.”

For its part, Rakuten Symphony has publicly released real world data, anecdotes, and proof points, demonstrating a path forward for any operator that may be considering Open RAN.

Head over to the Senza-Fili site now for the whole conversation, which also dives into required skillsets for maximizing open networks, the role of data in decision making, brownfield Open RAN strategies, achieving open at scale, the role of standards and more.

Open RAN
Supply Chain Diversity
Network Automation
Software Centric
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