In brief: When Nokia's board of directors named a new CEO earlier this year, the company's 5G future looked uncertain. However, the company has a new plan to embrace open interfaces as a way of making its RAN technology interoperable with that of its competitors, and thus more attractive to mobile operators looking to mix and match solutions from different vendors.
In the world of telecom equipment providers, there's been little interest in producing hardware that is interoperable with the competition. For decades, mobile operators have had to choose a vendor and stick with it for their entire supply chain, as it wasn't possible to mix and match equipment to speed up deployments and save on costs.
Finland-based Nokia is the first major telecom equipment maker that is adding open interfaces into its products. The move was announced today. Under this new approach called Open Radio Access Network (OpenRAN), Nokia is applying cloud-native principles to deployments of mobile fronthaul and midhaul networks. For companies that want to deploy 5G networks, this has a series of benefits such as faster, cheaper, and more flexible architectures that are easier to operate.
OpenRAN encompasses both hardware and software, with a lot of 5G deployments being implemented on virtualized and containerized platforms that run on a greater variety of hardware.
This is an area where Intel is fighting hard to secure a foothold, since the market for 5G chips for servers and base stations is expected to reach $25 billion by 2023.
Nokia says it supports the adoption of both OpenRAN and Cloud RAN solutions, and it will debut the open interfaces in its AirScale baseband stations later this year. The company plans to extend that to its entire hardware and software portfolio by the end of next year.
Last month, AT&T and Nokia revealed the first successful trial of a 5G RAN based on OpenRAN for AT&T's commercial mmWave network in New York.
This could give Nokia the ability to surpass Ericsson and Huawei in terms of market share and ride the 5G wave. Efforts by the US government to stunt Huawei's growth have yet to change the company's market position, but as more countries phase out Chinese equipment from 5G network deployments, the situation could change dramatically.