Written by guest authors David Abecassis, Partner, Analysys Mason and Caroline Gabriel, Research Director, Analysys Mason
OpenRAN Could Bring over USD285 Billion in Global GDP Gains by 2030, Stimulated by TIP and Other Industry Initiatives to Develop Open and Disaggregated Technologies
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become clear just how vital the telecoms industry has become to the functioning of our societies. From Oslo to Santiago, San Francisco to Manila, every person with the means to connect to the internet now relies heavily on the fiber, copper and radio networks that carry work, social, leisure and other vital information.
In advanced economies, mobile operators are on the cusp of introducing 5G, but face the challenge of justifying large investments, particularly in the radio network, with an unproven business case and uncertain demand. In emerging markets, many people still cannot access, or afford, mobile broadband. Meanwhile, operators’ margins are under pressure, due to commoditization, competition and upwards pressure on investments brought about by explosive demand growth, an increased focus on security and resilience of networks, and tight and concentrated equipment supply chains.
Improved network cost efficiency is key to making these investments possible, in particular through infrastructure sharing, carve-out of passive infrastructure  and radio access network (RAN) sharing models, including innovations such as ‘network as a service’.
In this context, telecoms stakeholders are coming together in a number of industry initiatives to open up and standardize interfaces between different network components, which would allow solutions from different vendors to work together or ‘interoperate’. This would open up networks to new vendors, and would also allow ‘traditional’ vendors to continue innovating by focusing on areas where they have unparalleled expertise. The vision that stakeholders including the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) are promoting is one where vendors and operators come together to innovate and bring to market solutions that respond directly to operators’ requirements, in a quick and cost-effective manner.
In a new report, Analysys Mason looks at the economic impact of open and disaggregated networks, and we quantify what this impact could be on global GDP by focusing on Open RAN. Other initiatives we explore in the report include Open Optical and Packet Transport (OOPT), and the recently launched OpenWiFi initiative. The impact of all of these technologies on networks globally could be transformational.
This new way of innovating around networks could enable faster and lower-cost greenfield deployment, in rural and hard-to-reach areas. It could also improve the time to market for new network functions in urban areas (e.g. smart-city use cases), and therefore accelerate testing of new business models, and therefore innovation.
Security and resilience are increasingly at the forefront of operators’ and policy makers’ thinking. There has been some debate about whether open and disaggregated networks would be better or worse than proprietary systems from this perspective, but the debate seems to have settled decisively in favor of the former. There are challenges to overcome, but it is clear that supplier diversity is key to the resilience and robustness of supply chains. Security risks are being mitigated through rigorous testing.
Our report finds that the economic benefits of a successful open and disaggregated network supply chain could be significant. More cost-effective RANs, built on the basis of operators’ requirements rather than vendors’ roadmaps, could lead to over USD285 billion in additional GDP globally over the next ten years, and over USD90 billion annually from 2030. This assumes that Open RAN will be deployed in about half the global footprint of mobile networks by 2030, with a total cost of ownership (TCO) benefit of 10–15%. This is conservative, and if Open RAN principles are adopted globally, benefits could triple.
How can the industry and policy makers support the development and deployment of open and disaggregated networks? We identified three main areas of focus, which will accelerate technology deployment and allow operators to have confidence in deploying disaggregated technologies at scale.
- First, an expansion of platforms for testing and integration of disaggregated solutions through more active collaboration between operators, vendors and systems integrators, together with support for full adherence to open standards and interoperability of solutions.
- Second, transparent product development and testing (e.g. through TIP Community Labs) with a clear focus on full interoperability, security and resilience; this will prevent inefficient duplication of efforts, avoid fragmentation of standards and ‘proprietary “creep”’, and allow networks to support mission-critical use cases.
- Finally, clear policy and fiscal support by governments and policy makers; supply chain strategies focused on resilience, security, vendor diversity, and accelerated network transformation are all fully aligned with the objectives of the open and disaggregated network movement.
We are already seeing momentum building in all these areas: five major European operators recently signed a memorandum of understanding to implement Open RAN  , which sends a strong signal for vendors to accelerate investments; the UK government expressed explicit support for Open RAN adoption as part of its recently published vendor diversification strategy; and ecosystem organizations including TIP are continuing to play an active role in helping the industry on its way to commercialization and deployment of open solutions at scale. Increased active participation of more vendors and operators in the open ecosystem will further accelerate the development of the multi-vendor supply chain, which will be crucial for maximizing the potential benefits of open and disaggregated technologies.
Proactive involvement of policy makers will also be key to unlocking even larger economic benefits. Conversely, a lack of co-ordination on key issues (such as a lack of alignment on the adoption of open standards and refragmentation, resulting in implementations that are not interoperable), would result in a reduction in the potential for open and disaggregated technologies to generate the envisioned impact and to help achieve policy objectives.
We look forward to continuing to support stakeholders across the ecosystem to develop and execute strategies that will achieve the best possible outcome for the telecoms industry in these times of rapid change.
 A passive infrastructure ‘carve-out’ in the mobile sector usually refers to a process where a mobile operator sells some or all of its towers to a third-party infrastructure provider, who then markets tenancies on these towers to all operators in the market, facilitating infrastructure sharing