European mobile operators and vendors have been early participants of Open RAN initiatives like TIP and the O-RAN Alliance, but their commercial single-RAN network strategies have often lagged their R&D interests.

Recent announcements indicate this is fast changing for most. European MNOs are now in the driving seat – making commitments to roll out large parts of their networks with Open RAN and pushing national and EU government policy to support Open RAN acceleration activities.

The European Union View

The objectives of the European Commission (EC) around 5G and Open RAN appear to concentrate on promoting industry growth, security and “digital sovereignty”; supplier diversification is seen mostly in this context. This is not unexpected, given that two of the three big incumbent vendors (NOKIA and Ericsson) are European, and this is referenced in relevant reports published by the European Commission or by EU member states. The report on the cybersecurity of Open RAN published in May 2022 presents a sceptical view and highlights ‘cybersecurity’ as a significant challenge for Open RAN in general, and in particular O-RAN specifications, which it assesses are still to reach maturity in this area. The European Union is actively supporting 5G innovation, trials and ecosystem formation with a number of 5G programmes, including Horizon 2020, but stated objectives and assessments of Open RAN readiness indicate a divergence of approaches compared to the UK, Korea, Japan, India and North America.

Read the Commission's Study on the Future 5G Supply Ecosystem in Europe
The Big Four European MNOs

On the demand side, Europe's big five mobile network operator groups (Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Vodafone) are seeking concerted European support and EU investment in Open RAN with an MoU issued in November 2011. This was preceded by four of these operators signing an earlier MoU stating their public commitment to Open RAN in January 2021.

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    German Open RAN Pioneers

    In Germany, the transformation of MVNO 1&1 into a new fully fledged nationwide 5G Open RAN network is creating a European proof point and a notable case study for large scale national deployment. This is still early days and the 1&1 network is far from ready. For their network rollout, 1&1 has partnered with Rakuten, leveraging the Rakuten Communication Platform and the relevant experience of Rakuten developed while designing and running their own nationwide 5G Open RAN network Japan. This could be one of the networks to keep an eye on.

    1&1 is not the only German operator deploying Open RAN. Deutsche Telekom announced its first truly multivendor virtualised Open RAN in the town of Neubrandenburg, with 25 massive MIMO 4G/5G sites. DT’s multivendor “O-RAN Town” network comprises solutions from Dell, Fujitsu, Intel, Mavenir, NEC and Supermicro. In O-RAN Town, DT is also trialling service automation solutions to streamline operation of its Open RAN network, enabled by a new vendor-independent Service Management and Orchestration (SMO), developed, and introduced by DT using ONAP open source.


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