AT&T recently announced it will undertake a massive upgrade of its network infrastructure and will embrace a set of protocols referred to as Open RAN or Open Radio Access Network.
Radio Access Networks allow cell phones and other devices to connect to the telecom company’s core network.
Historically the RANs were closed-loop systems requiring like devices to be rolled out everywhere using the same protocols.
Open RAN is a relatively new idea spearheaded by members of the ORAN Alliance which was founded in 2021.
Those charter members include AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DOCOMO, and Orange who worked together to create a conceptual model where equipment and systems would be interchangeable and flexible.
The benefits of this approach are numerous but the major interest for bigger telecoms is the flexibility to drive better pricing on components, thus taking out much of the risk of being held captive to a single supply chain vendor.
O-RAN networks also provide better support for future innovations, and increased flexibility, security, and scalability.
As part of the announcement, AT&T also reveals an expanded partnership with supplier Ericsson to be the main provider of parts for the new Open RAN sites which will cover 70% of its cellular network by 2026.
AT&T estimates that the spending on new equipment could be as high as $14 billion over five years.
The company is the first telecom company to go all in on Open RAN technology.
Chris Sambar, Executive Vice President, of AT&T Network said of the long-term deal with Ericsson, “With this collaboration, we will open up radio access networks, drive innovation, spur competition, and connect more Americans with 5G and fiber.”