Telefonica steps into Open RAN “dream” with Ericsson

Telefonica credits Rakuten in Copenhagen, but chooses Ericsson the following week for Open Cloud RAN trials.

A day after Ericsson said that it was ready to take leadership in industrialising Open RAN, it has released details of an MoU to develop Open RAN-based Cloud RAN technology with Telefonica.

The companies said that they would “leverage existing 5G infrastructure to jointly test, deploy, and evolve Cloud RAN technology with trial deployments in Europe”. There were no further details on the date, scale and timing of those trials. But the reference to the “existing infrastructure” does suggest that the companies will be looking to connect Ericsson Cloud RAN to their already deployed RUs.

Ericsson said yesterday that it has over a million RUs already deployed that can support the version of the O-RAN fronthaul interface (NG-LLS) that it is backing to provide Massive MIMO functionality over an disaggreggated RU to DU interface.

Telefonica “extremely close” on Open RAN

At TM Forum’s Digital Transformation World event held last week in Copenhagen, Telefonica CTIO Enrique Blanco told an audience that Telefonica is “extremely close” to solving the technical challenges it has seen in centralising and virtualising the RAN baseband. At that time, he didn’t mention Ericsson – in fact he said that Rakuten, with whom Telefonica has had a strategic partnership, had been “key” to this.

“Open RAN it is one of our dreams,” Blanco said. “Close your eyes. What is going to happen with 6G deployment? Initially it will be using the spectrum of 5G – later on higher spectrum because of capacity. So we need to fully centralise all the baseband intelligence. We have been in a big effort across the industry with the Open RAN Alliance. We are extremely close trying to solve for the technical solution and Rakuten is key for us in this – and we cannot lose all the traction that we have in this and all the rest of the industry.”

“But Open RAN is sending the message that we need to fully virtualise and softwarise all the services that today have still some proprietary interfaces.”

This public reference, TMN understands, came as something of a surprise even to Rakuten executives at the event, even though the companies have been allied in a strategic partnership on Open RAN. Perhaps Blanco was being polite, as he was sharing a session with Rakuten Symphony Acting President Sharad Sriwastawa. In any event, despite Rakuten Symphony’s work in commercialising its cloud platform and vRAN software within an open architecture, Telefonica’s latest step into Open RAN is with Ericsson, according to today’s release.

Telefonica’s priority, Blanco explained at DTW, is to have a softwarised, programmable network that would enable the operator to exploit new business models, creating more dynamic services for customers, and exploiting the network as a platform via network APIs. Open RAN sits as part of that cloud-based software evolution.

Today’s announcement with Ericsson includes specific mention of evolving RAN automation and service management and automation using the O-RAN RIC platform and network APIs.

Blanco said that the operator is committed to evolving a cloud native network, and that it must move with velocity – “we cannot be years and years evolving and changing our infrastructure.”

“Close your eyes: what are we – Telefonica, or Vodafone or AT&T or Deutsche Telekom? We are a significant amount of assets – antenas, towers, servers, machines, CPE, ducts, fibre. All these physical assets – our dream is how we can softwarise all of them. How we can just maintain only the physical elements and manage with intelligence all of this. For example, in 19th April 2024 we will be switching off all copper and all of our customers’ home devices will be on fibre. We have been building an experience to manage the in-home device with software, and this is how we will be managing our services. All the services have been fully virtualised.”

Certainly Ericsson is positioning today’s release within that broader continuum towards a programmable network exposed via APIs. And it references again the O-RAN Alliance’s adoption of Ericsson’s preferred choice for an open fronthaul interface.

Fredrik Jejdling, Executive Vice President and Head of Networks, Ericsson, said in the PR statement: “This collaboration with Telefónica aims to accelerate the development and deployment of cloud-native open networks. This will enable an open ecosystem of innovation and the way we think about the value of networks, by exposing new capabilities through standardized APIs. The latest development in O-RAN Alliance allows us to build high performance networks on Open RAN standards, at scale.”