AT&T plans to upgrade 70% of its mobile network to open radio access network (Open RAN) technology by 2026. The company said yesterday that it will use technology from Ericsson for the deployments, but also noted that deployment plans include working in coordination with suppliers such as Corning, Dell, Fujitsu and Intel beginning in 2025.

Total investment is estimated at $14 billion over AT&T’s five-year contract with Ericsson.

Open RAN disaggregates RAN functionality by using open interfaces between network elements. The technology can be software-defined and can be implemented in vendor-neutral hardware.

In a briefing with reporters late yesterday, AT&T Chief Technology Officer Igal Elbaz said AT&T is “uniquely positioned” to leverage open RAN because the company is already making moves to disaggregate its network. The company said previously that those efforts helped achieve a speedy 5G rollout.

AT& T plans for open RAN in 2024 include having fully integrated open RAN sites operating in coordination with Ericsson and Fujitsu.

Open RAN Benefits

AT&T cited a range of benefits from open RAN in today’s press release, including “rapid scaling and management of mixed supplier hardware at each cell site.”

Other benefits, according to the company, include:

  • The ability to quickly capitalize on the next generation of wireless technology and spectrum when it becomes available
  • Enabling lower-power sustainable network with higher performance to deliver enhanced use experiences
  • Providing a springboard for developers driving innovation through open and programmable networks and bringing new suppliers into the industry
  • Fostering modernization and competition in the U.S. wireless equipment market
  • More flexibility in choosing equipment, lower network costs and improved operational efficiencies

AT&T isn’t the only U.S. wireless provider that is gung-ho on open RAN. Dish is building a 5G mobile network from scratch without having first deployed earlier-generation technology. The company made the choice to use O-RAN, a term that officially relates to standards from the O-RAN Alliance, although O-RAN and open RAN often are used interchangeably.

Dish has made a string of vendor announcements involving the company’s O-RAN infrastructure.

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