The term Open RAN may sound like a new technology acronym, but it is not. With telecom companies investing €174 billion to provide gigabit connectivity to all Europeans, Open RAN offers a non-proprietary and open version of the Radio Access Network that will aid in the development of 5G networks.
Countries such as South Korea, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom have heavily invested in this accessible technology. They have formed alliances, provided funding for experiments, and established centers for innovation.
The EU should defend and further extend its leadership position in network equipment. Today, we can pride ourselves with global technology champions such as Nokia and Ericsson, which are both heavily investing in the future of telecoms networks. With technology for radio access evolving very rapidly, new actors are emerging and other regions of the world are getting ready to challenge us.
The European Union has the opportunity to maintain its position by promoting a more robust, domestically developed radio access network ecosystem, which includes Open RAN. This ecosystem should prioritize cybersecurity and environmental sustainability. My suggestion is that we demonstrate our determination through two key actions: providing funding for industry-led partnerships to work on development and deployment, as well as promoting an EU certification program; and supporting a European industry alliance focused on Open RAN.
Virtualizing networks relates to implementing a strategic plan for industry.
The emergence of 5G and fiber technology has led to the virtualization of networks. This involves moving connectivity functions from physical switches to the cloud. As a result, networks now serve as a platform for customers and developers to connect, using standardized APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). Similar to creating apps for a smartphone, but with the added advantage of a globally connected network.
Numerous industries are now utilizing the new network to revolutionize their business models. This includes sectors such as connected automobiles, smart manufacturing, healthcare, and public transportation. By creating industrial applications, you can enhance productivity, improve service quality, and reduce carbon emissions.
The importance of this cannot be overstated when it comes to industrial strategy. For the EU to maintain its competitiveness, it is crucial that it becomes proficient in the technologies and supply chains involved. The transformation hinges on network virtualization and the future of RAN.
Promoting the growth of the EU Open RAN community
A recent report by Deloitte revealed that, out of all the enabling technologies, open RAN and Network Function Virtualization may demand the highest amount of resources. In the EU, it is estimated that investments of up to €100 billion will be needed for each of these technologies by 2030.
In the beginning of this year, the Biden administration in the United States introduced a $1.5 billion fund for promoting Open RAN technology. The European Union has also made significant investments in 5G and the development of future network generations. It is now crucial to move forward and aid in the establishment of an EU-based Open RAN ecosystem. All the necessary elements are in place: a strong political drive to lead in 5G, innovative domestic vendors, and a determined telecom industry that has already initiated efforts to advance European Open RAN technology.
We need to work together with the European Commission and EU funding to make our efforts more efficient. This includes everything from innovation and testing to collaborating with industries and implementing projects. The EU Digital Decade program has already provided the opportunity for cross-country projects. The Commission and interested member countries can now pool their investments in crucial areas like 5G communication and data infrastructure. In my opinion, we should promote interoperable and open networks, and establish an EU-wide certification system to encourage a European Open RAN ecosystem.
My suggestion is for the EU to demonstrate their determination by backing a European Open RAN industry alliance. We can look to South Korea’s recent experience for guidance. This is not about starting from scratch, but acknowledging the contributions of the European industry and promoting them.
Dealing with the issue of strategic independence and ensuring security
The Commission led by von der Leyen recognizes the importance of Open Strategic Autonomy. As Commissioner Breton stated, we are moving away from naivety and aiming to assert ourselves in the realm of technology. I support this strategy, as failing to take the lead in future technologies not only impacts our socio-economic progress, but also limits our control.
The constant advancement of technology presents new security obstacles. The telecommunications sector is putting in significant effort to guarantee the security of 5G and its associated hardware and software. In addition, utilizing network virtualization and artificial intelligence in network operations offers potential for enhanced security and sustainability in communication systems. However, it is crucial that we stay ahead in the development of foundational technologies like open RAN.
The utilization of Open RAN will play a crucial role in the future of the 5G supply chain. Therefore, it is imperative that Europe takes the lead in terms of innovation and implementation, not just for security reasons but also to stay ahead of the competition. By investing in Open RAN, promoting collaboration within the industry, and prioritizing policy efforts, we can achieve this goal.