The global “race” to deploy 5G technology has created opportunities for major suppliers of advanced wireless telecom equipment globally. However, increased concentration of the RAN equipment market in recent years and the absence of any U.S. companies among the major suppliers have led industry participants and U.S. policy makers to look to new technologies to shake up the supply market. OpenRAN and virtualized RAN (vRAN), collectively “open RAN,” technologies aim to fill that role by departing from the traditional technology approach that relies on proprietary technology by instead disaggregating hardware and software and creating open interfaces between them based on community-developed standards. Proponents of open RAN believe that the use of standardized hardware has the potential to substantially reduce the costs of entry for new competitors in the market for RAN equipment, thereby attracting new entrants and encouraging innovation. The potential for open RAN to have a meaningful effect on the development of 5G networks in the near term is a matter of some dispute, however.
In this Insights, we discuss the potential for open RAN to become an economic alternative to the traditional RAN ecosystem. We also discuss the deployments and trials that have occurred to date and the kinds of deployments for which open RAN currently appears promising.