Open radio access network (RAN) deployments will account for 58% of total RAN capex spending at $32.3 billion and be deployed at 65% of all sites by 2026 despite overhype and uncertainty over which standards will prevail.
This is according to a report from RAN Research, the wireless analytics arm of Rethink Technology Research. It predicts that Open RAN deployments will occur rapidly across all sectors but will accelerate fastest in small cell environments, especially greenfield roll-outs, rather than in macro and micro RANs.
The report highlights the key role alternative and enterprise deployers will play in driving open RAN in many markets, including specialised divisions within mobile network operators and telcos. In 2020-2023, it says, only 17% of established mobile network operators will deploy an open RAN for any purpose, while 39% of alternative and greenfield deployers will adopt it fully in this early phase. Enterprise small cell networks will be a particularly strong driver and proving ground for open RAN.
RAN Research analysed feedback from a detailed survey of 107 service providers, including 78 mobile network operators, with 29 of those alternative cellular network deployers. It revealed key drivers, which would, if fully proven, accelerate their deployment of open RAN by at least one year, led by the need for simplicity of deployment, followed by access to innovation and multivendor interoperability. Reduction in total cost of ownership was only in fourth place.
Given such uncertainties, the report sets out best and worst case forecast for deployments of open RAN in the period to 2026, analyzing the factors that will govern which of those two trajectories the market tends towards. Even under the worst case open RAN will be deployed at 24 million cell sites by 2026 with the best case 44 million and the middle most likely total being 35 million.
In almost all cases, open RAN will be deployed progressively rather than as a big bang process, notes the report.
Caroline Gabriel, the report’s lead analyst and Rethink’s research director, said: “Most operators will introduce open interfaces initially to secondary or small cell networks, or to their fronthaul links only. Alternatively they will specify open RAN support in RFPs but choose a single vendor in the first instance at least.”
This follows a report by ABI Research, which predicted that the Open RAN market is expanding rapidly and is expected to exceed the traditional RAN market for the first time by 2027-2028.