Open RAN radio unit vendor landscape witnesses rapid growth

The number of equipment vendors offering radio units for mobile networks is growing rapidly, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, with at least 20 companies offering these products globally and more expected in 2021.

New entrants have been lured to this market space – part of the radio access network (RAN) that transmits mobile signals to users – by the advent of recently developed common interfaces between radio units and the rest of the network known as Open RAN interfaces.

These interfaces were developed with help from the Open RAN Alliance, a group launched by major mobile operators including AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom and NTT DOCOMO in 2018, with the goal of fostering a more competitive ecosystem of equipment suppliers.

Ed Gubbins, Principal Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “For many years, these operators have had very few choices for RAN suppliers, but the large number of companies now participating in this space – together with a new breed of RAN software firms – pose the potential to fundamentally disrupt the traditional RAN market in the 5G era.”

GlobalData has identified more than 20 companies that are currently participating in the Open RAN radio unit space or have plans to do so soon. The list of players represents several different geographies globally and a diverse mix of company types, from startups to technology giants and existing RAN vendors.

Gubbins continues: “The Open RAN ecosystem is still at a relatively early stage, but the level of investment and participation we’re seeing already is a very encouraging sign. Time will tell how widely mobile operators end up deploying these Open RANs, but to the extent that this movement’s proponents aimed to foster more competition in the RAN space, their efforts are clearly paying off.”

Although differentiation will be challenging for companies in this space, participating companies are already distinguishing themselves in several ways, including:

  • Portfolio breadth
  • Power output and energy efficiency
  • Indoor vs. outdoor products
  • Support for beamforming and millimetre-wave technologies

Gubbins adds: “Some aspects of this market will be vulnerable to commoditization, and a natural shake-out will occur that will reduce the number of players in this space. Some smaller players are likely to be acquired by larger ones, but it will take time for winners and losers to diverge. For now, the space is still growing. GlobalData expects more companies in this space in 2021 than there are in 2020.”

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