Considering that the xRAN Forum wanted to remove some of the stranglehold the big infrastructure vendors hold in the RAN space, it might be surprising that Nokia, being one of said vendors, contributed to the efforts to create an open specification.
Last week, the xRAN Forum announced the public availability of the xRAN Fronthaul Specification Version 1.0, the first specification made publicly available from xRAN since its launch in October 2016. The spec was designed in part so that more vendors could develop Remote Radio Units and Baseband Units rather than operators being forced to get both the RRUs and BBUs from the same vendor, such as a Nokia. It follows on other moves by operators to drive open source and nonproprietary solutions that fit their needs as opposed to vendors dictating what’s available.
In a statement to FierceWirelessTech on Friday, Nokia acknowledged that openness and decomposition of the RAN are an industry trend, driven by many different industry initiatives—3GPP, the Telecom Infra Project, the Open Compute Project, Open Network Automation Platform and more—noting that xRAN is in line with Nokia’s strategic intention to embrace openness. And some IPR protection helped seal the deal.
“While some RAN equipment makers might choose to downplay the notion of xRAN, we see it as a possibility for Nokia to continue to differentiate against our competitors,” said Phil Twist, vice president of Networks Marketing for Nokia, in a statement. “By being part of xRAN, Nokia has an option to affect its future direction, and can more readily take advantage of the openness and open APIs to simplify bringing new, differentiating third-party innovations into our offering.”
That said, being a company with a market cap valued at over $31 billion, it didn’t join xRAN by happenstance. Prior to joining xRAN, Nokia was able to influence and modify the xRAN IPR policy to ensure that it can continue to monetize its IPR: “The protection of Nokia IPR was a prerequisite to us joining xRAN,” Twist said.
As such, Nokia expects to leverage a dynamic ecosystem thanks to greater openness and open source approaches. “Such an ecosystem would enable fast customization of B2B needs and speed up innovation around topics such as AI,” Twist added. “Many customers appreciate this approach, as there’s an opportunity to be a forerunner in programmable RAN architecture development. This openness and cooperation also enables us to be involved with customers as they address concrete use cases.”
Other infrastructure vendors, including Samsung, are part of the xRAN movement. “This will further strengthen the network vendors’ ability to build a robust end-to-end ecosystem for carriers, by leveraging open standards to advance the speed and the evolution of technologies such as LTE-Advanced and upcoming 5G systems,” he said.
That said, Swedish rival Ericsson is on the sidelines, observing the open source initiatives but largely keeping its cards with the standards developed through 3GPP. Ericsson has said it’s in continuous contact with its operator customers and other stakeholders in the industry to ensure it continues to develop the right products that make operators successful in their markets and satisfy their end users’ needs, but it's not involved with these other endeavors to the extent that Nokia and others are involved.