July 2021 in telecoms: MWC21 & more

Curated: GSMA Intelligence takes on Open RAN and Public Cloud developments

Last month saw the return of MWC Barcelona– the most anticipated event in the Telecoms industry calendar. No surprises then, that we saw myriad announcements and developments in the last month from a wide spectrum of topics.

For this edition of CURATED, we decided to shed some light on developments in two of the most hotly debated topics in the industry right now – Open RAN and Public Cloud. As usual, we bring you a combination of known and unknowns from the topic.

Open RAN: Going Global

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As of today, 73 operators from 38 markets have either deployed or committed to Open RAN deployments. Scanning through the list of operators and their geographical presence, it is clear that Open RAN is now going global, touching developed and developing markets alike. Be it Axiata announcing plans to deploy Open RAN in multiple countries by end 2021, MTN announcing its Open RAN plans across its footprint, OR the partnership between Airtel and Tata to deploy indigenous Open RAN solutions–highlighting the rapid global spread.

 The momentum continues in other parts of the world also with UK government funding a 5G Open RAN testing lab and Deutsche Telekom switching on its “O-RAN town” with massive MIMO radio units for high performance. The foundation of Open RAN was laid with the creation of TIP in 2016, but 2021 is clearly the year when we are seeing Open RAN gain global momentum. We saw many interesting developments in Open RAN space in the last month, some of which are highlighted below:

So what?

All the above points towards two things for Open RAN – growing momentum, and deployments going global. Does this mean that Telcos who have not yet advanced their Open RAN plans need to jump on the bandwagon now?

There is no clear “Yes” or “No” answer. This will depend on the current situation and requirements of each individual operator. Their decisions will be driven by factors such as   – where they are in the lifecycle of their legacy networks, what is their CAPEX vs OPEX split in networks investment, are they looking to upgrade brownfield networks or building a greenfield 5G network. According to the GSMA Intelligence Operator in Focus Network Transformation survey, Telcos also see ownership/co-ordination, lack of internal expertise and integration into existing systems as the top challenges for adoption of Open RAN. While cost saving is often advocated as one of the benefits of Open RAN, a lack of clarity on ROI also acts as a hurdle.

The above challenges do not mean Telcos must necessarily reject Open RAN. Rather, telcos need to be aware of their requirements and network evolution plans. And in the present, Telcos still need to get the ball rolling by forging partnerships that allows them to undertake R&D on existing networks, understand use cases with Open RAN deployments, and undertake trials to better inform their deployment decisions.

Are the clouds over public cloud clearing in telecoms?

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What did leading public cloud evangelist, Danielle Royston, tout for public cloud at MWC? She said simply – ‘GO ALL IN’! It is natural for an evangelist to make such a statement but she backed it up by advocating the perceived benefits of utilising hyperscalers and public cloud, IE TCO savings (in millions and billions), scalability and flexibility, leveraging hyperscalers’ data centres both to save costs and use  their regional and local presence to make edge computing viable.

There were plenty of public cloud partnerships being announced by telcos prior to 2021. Yet the announcement from US telco Dish in April and the presence of Cloud City at MWC Barcelona highlights the momentum we now see in the adoption of public cloud. The increasing intersection of telecoms and public cloud is reflected in the below announcements and is also mirrored in the forthcoming MWC LA theme of Telco Cloud.

So what?

There is clear momentum behind public cloud in the telecoms industry with progress on multiple fronts from network related developments to co-developing enterprise related solutions and also hyperscalers working on future-proof solutions. But the industry is still divided on the killer use case. Where some in industry see latency as the benefit (leveraging data centres for edge computing) of using public cloud, others see the same as a risk arising from using shared space on a public cloud. Beyond this, the adoption of public cloud is also facing headwinds from the speculated risks to privacy and data security. The data sovereignty rules in some market will also make it difficult for many operators to fully embrace the public cloud.

However, the multitude of enterprise opportunities in the 5G era are only expected to be supported by the new cloud native architecture of 5G, powered by AI solutions and edge computing made possible using the cloud. This makes it inevitable for telcos to embrace cloud technology; the choice is simply between public or private cloud. To capitalise on the benefits of public cloud and overcome the highlighted risks and challenges, the industry must work together. A WAIT and WATCH approach does not always guarantee success but working together and co-creating solutions certainly does.

The transition to public cloud will be a gradual and phased process and will be made possible with initiatives from across the cloud ecosystem. Hyperscalers are also taking initiatives to make this happen for telcos – Google Cloud joining O-RAN alliance, Azure launching private MEC, and AWS introducing local data processing on outposts are sign of things to come.

Finally, do you know that?

All of the above analysis is based on news curated by our team of analysts, and taken from our Industry Updates feed. Visit our feed today for more of the news shaping the mobile industry of tomorrow. It comes without interference.

By Radhika Gupta, Head of Data Acquisition, GSMA Intelligence