Boosted by strong regulatory interest to support its development in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and Japan, the Telecoms Infra Project is calling on the need for stability and clarity in the communications technology industry to gain the necessary investment to drive a new generation of services – not only in the mobile domain, but also in fixed broadband.
The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) was created to accelerate the pace of innovation in the telecom industry worldwide, by designing, building and deploying technologies that are more flexible and efficient, in particular driving open radio access network (Open RAN) infrastructures. It said operators face a key challenge: demands on their networks continue to rise despite a persistent connectivity gap, and they need to extend their networks to connect more people, as well as upgrade their networks to support increasing traffic. TIP has a number of community labs around the world where members can test and validate new technologies with the goal of creating more flexible, efficient offerings.
A year ago, TIP announced the creation of a massive MIMO metaverse partnership with processor giant Intel and a sub group in the fixed comms domain, focusing on improving interoperability and diversity in the access network, accelerating innovation through the modernisation of operations and deployment architectures, and boosting capacity in the last mile through transition from GPON to XGS-PON optical network technology.
Speaking to Computer Weekly at the FYUZ 2023 conference, TIP executive director Kristian Toivo said that over the course of the past 12 months, the idea of selling the concept of Open RAN seems to be over, and that it was now a case of how to apply it appropriately. “A year ago, it was very much focused on specifications and technology,” he said. “We need to run forward as a neutral body that has the interest of its community at heart, and that community is consisting not just of operators, but also vendors of technology companies of different kinds. It’s also not just our brand. It’s Wi-Fi, open Wi-Fi, transport, and new, emerging technologies. Let’s say [it’s a] continued evolution.
“Whatever you launch or deploy, the technology will always evolve because the underlying platforms – such as Silicon – become more efficient. Cloud concepts are evolving: they are moving from … datacentre-driven cloud solutions to distributed cloud solutions. And we have AI [artificial intelligence] that everybody talks about but nobody really understands, and that is going to change. We are really trying to demonstrate where we stand in terms of what it takes to move forward in deployment. Open RAN attracts the most attention because it’s kind of the elephant in the room.”
Driven by the progress of operators such as Vodafone, the Open RAN ecosystem has developed swiftly over the past year. For Toivo, an important part of his role is about really understanding the complexities in the industry and removing them. “We are going to try to embrace activities that are part of keeping a consistent, uniform way. Of course, understanding technologies [is crucial, but] what you would see today is that whether you’re talking about Open RAN or open transport, or open Wi-Fi or metaverse-ready networks, it’s now more on practical terms,” he said.
“There’s a certain way of working that the community recognises [and we] have been able to create uniformity in this platform, which hopefully makes it appealing for the community members to work because many companies work in many domains. Hardware and software vendors are coming together and providing alternatives to the traditional closed solutions and operators are deploying them. [With Open RAN], it is much easier these days now you’ve got the likes of Vodafone really accelerating commercial deployments. We now understand more about what we as [an organisation] should enable for this industry to thrive.”
Tovio also welcomed the fact that Open RAN and its proponents were finding positive support from regulators in key economies. He made particular reference to the recent announcement by the joint statement of intent by the governments of the UK, Australia, Canada, Japan and the US to establish a Global Coalition on Telecommunications (GCOT), a new informal multilateral alliance which endeavours to promote international consensus, foster global dialogue and drive innovation in telecommunications. He said such global agreements were necessary for the Open RAN industry to flourish, and made it possible to create and drive transformation.
Looking at what’s likely to happen in the industry over the next year, Tovio did not expect much in the way of revolution, nor did he predict any dramatic changes. Achieving transformation in this industry takes quite some time, he observed.
“We need to make sure we can both highlight and demonstrate the value of the progress that has been made,” said Tovio. “I think we need to keep on highlighting [innovation] because there is a tendency in an industry like ours that you overhype. We are coming out of the hype cycle, and all things being equal, over the next 12 months we will probably see a steady [growth]. Beyond that, in the next two or three years, we will see scaling-up, because that is simply the cycle in this industry.
“It’s important that operators are able to make long-term investment plans that will then create confidence with the vendor community and also the supply chain. I also think it will be important that operators have a planning window and signal to investment firms what they can expect. We need stability. We need investment plans, and clarity on what technology to buy for vendors to commit to.”