The future of open networking and open RAN in the digital networking era

The future of digital networking requires continual capacity augments and evolution to meet ever-increasing demands. This past year highlighted this need and urgency as the world was forced into immediate full-time remote work and school, leading to an unprecedented dependency on online platforms. With 5G making waves in almost half of the world and emerging technologies becoming mainstream, operators will continue to see increased demands on the network.

Open networks are the answer to ever-increasing bandwidth needs

The industry needs to focus on a move towards an open radio access network (open RAN) to support the growing needs of customers who will always want more. In particular, we need to support brownfield deployments for operators, moving towards flexible adaption to this new technology. Open networks have all that it takes to save the day for service providers with legacy networks that are struggling to manage increased demands. These vendor-agnostic networks will significantly reduce time-to-market for new digital services and set the ball rolling for edge computing.

Open networking is finding more relevance

This move to open wireless networks, building open, interoperable and intelligent RANs, as opposed to proprietary infrastructure, is where the industry needs to move, helping telcos build the next generation of digital networks. Operators and equipment manufacturers are adopting oen RAN technology worldwide to reduce infrastructure deployment costs and lower the barrier to entry for new product innovation. The shift to open RAN provides more flexibility for choosing a vendor ecosystem. This allows for more innovative opportunities, supply chain diversity and cost efficiencies. According to studies, open RAN solutions can help telecom operators and ISPs reduce capex by 40%–50% and operating expenses by 30%–40% relative to a traditional cellular setup. World over, we see top operators starting their open RAN journey and committing to investments and implementation timelines.

5G beckons open networks as well

The expanding deployment of 5G in the enterprise space and the use cases required for different industry verticals is a big opportunity for open RAN systems. With concerted efforts on the open RAN side, STL is working on removing the barriers to its adoption by solving for size, cost, power, operability or ability to deploy – key areas that are important and matter to service providers.

In the past, Wi-Fi networks were much faster and easier to install. However, advances in technology have narrowed the gap in speed. By being early adopters of open RAN, we are leveraging the merchant silicon, SDN and open networking ecosystems as we build carrier-grade solutions. This is a more cloud-native approach.

The governments and regulators also have a pivotal role in forming a conducive 5G ecosystem in a country. Together, they must work as an orchestrator among different stakeholders and as a fundamental enabler for the mass adoption of 5G. They must take important calls on the availability and pricing of spectrum and seek opportunities to encourage free-market dynamics to drive adoption by domestic firms and in the wider public interest.

The future is 'open' for the world

The digital networking space is at an inflection point where open technologies and software-driven infrastructures are becoming increasingly relevant. Open RAN has the ability to attract a wider variety of suppliers to deliver systems and move networks onto a cloud path from a captive supplier ecosystem. Telcos can also deploy both traditional and cloud-based architectures, as they seek to replace monolithic telecom gear with networking components they can mix and match to make their networks more cost-effective. A new phase of open and automated fiber and radio access networking has begun; there is new-found acceptance and the industry has sprung into action. The past year saw many significant players devising open, disaggregated networking solutions to keep up the new way of building radio networks; the next big step will be “at-scale" implementation.

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