Towards The New Diversified Network

If you represent a government, regulator, service provider or systems integrators with an interest in telecoms vendor diversification, AttoCore is definitely the vendor to turn to. Particularly well suited to deployment in private networks, AttoCore’s products are ideally suited to supporting O-RAN deployments in enterprise and Smart City, Neutral Host networks. This paper explains the vendor diversification concept, how it can be realised in networks and how AttoCore can assist in achieving the vendor diversification vision.

 

The Need For Vendor Diversification

Telecoms vendor diversification has suddenly become both a popular “buzz phrase” and a subject of major interest to both government and the smaller telecoms vendor community.

So what is it all about?

The concern is the reliance of the telecommunications network on a shrinking number of telecoms vendors. Across Europe and North America, the expulsion of the Chinese vendors from networks has resulted in a significant over reliance on the products of two vendors – Nokia and Ericsson. Two vendor supply of this sort is viewed as being an imperfect market. Reduced competition is not good for resilience, or prices and is not good for innovation.

Vendor diversification is an active process aimed at increasing the number of vendors supplying the network. It suggests government and/or regulatory intervention in order for this to happen. An example of this intervention is the UK’s Telecoms Diversification Taskforce, whose April 2021 Report includes the following:

We recommend the Government sets a challenging ambition to work toward a significant portion of equipment within mobile operators’ networks being supplied by new suppliers and/or through open architectures. The Taskforce believes 25% by the mid 2020s should be the initial aspiration for mobile operators.

In this respect, these recommendations are in sync with the vendor community. For example, the EANGTI (European Association Of Next Generation Telecoms Innovators) proposes:

Supplier diversification – require mobile network operators to spend 10% of annual CapEx and Opex on European SMEs.

 

New Networks Are The Vehicle For Diversification

Such ambitions are difficult to realise. Enforcement is a possibility. Governments have succeeded in leveraging the Chinese vendors out of the network, so it is not inconceivable that they could leverage new vendors in. EANGTI is holding out for EU intervention, in the form of funding programmes and the UK’s DCMS also seems to be very interested in running an O-RAN programme, specifically to encourage the move towards multi-vendor networks in dense urban environments.

These programmes are well meaning, but it is questionable whether any such programme is going to change the telecoms vendor diversification landscape in any major way. Big network procurement is a matter decided by account relationships more than technology and product fit and it is not possible for small vendors to replicate the account relationships which exist between the big networks and their big, undiversified vendors.  

The better opportunities for success will come from new networks. Again, EANGTI is quite explicit about this:

Pursue funding to build 10+ mobile 4G/5G networks in Europe, which are a 100% built and/or supplied by European SMEs. Examples can include bringing 4G coverage to rural areas or deploying 5G networks on university campuses to support research and development around 5G applications.

Once again, this is a move which requires explicit EU intervention, including significant funds, to kick start the process. However, the impact would be significant, simultaneously addressing the provision of service into rural not spots, providing a cost-effective alternative to the big vendors in university networks (which are mostly a lock out for smaller vendors at the moment) and encouraging vendor diversification. But there is another way of encouraging vendor diversification in new networks.

 

Private Networks

AttoCore believes that the encouragement of private networks is an equally beneficial alternative to these large scale public programmes, which directly encourages vendor diversification. Private networks are made possible by the creation of a licensing regime by the national regulator, which allows for the purchase of low power licences, by any organisation, which are usable at a local level. These licences are typically used to create enterprise grade private networks.

As these enterprise grade networks are much smaller than the public networks and as they will eventually be more numerous, they create the environment for the emergence of a new breed of systems integrator and service provider, competing with the MNOs. These organisations would be purchasing product at a much lower volume than the MNOs and so would be much more likely to shop around for the best price, the best performance, the best fit for the project at hand. 

It is here that the SME telecoms vendor can flourish. As much as the large MNOs do not provide opportunities for SME network equipment vendors, smaller systems integrators and service providers do. It is here that the existing SME telecoms vendor business currently lies, addressing specialist opportunities – in mines, on oil rigs, in government R&D projects, in prisons etc – which are not of interest to the MNOs and their big vendors.

Opening up spectrum for private networks on a national basis would take these systems integrators and their SME vendors out of their niches, into the enterprise mainstream and would encourage other organisations to follow suit.

As a consortium member of the 5G-AMC2 project, AttoCore is already directly involved in the design, development, deployment and operation of an enterprise grade private network. Moreover, the project has championed telecoms vendor diversification since day one with the RAN supplier and the systems integrator currently frozen out of the UK’s public networks. In addition, the project pioneers the O-RAN 7.2 split configuration favoured by the UK’s DCMS for encouraging vendor diversification. The project has already been demonstrated to the UK’s DCMS in the lab and will be deployed live from July 2021.

Although private networks allowing enterprises to operate their own mobile networks is innovative, the concept of private networks is not. Enterprise grade voice networks supported by PBXs and key systems stimulated a highly diverse private network ecosystem where many small vendors were able to offer products, some times in competition to large vendors, but frequently addressing opportunities which just did not interest these large vendors. This vendor diversity will be repeated in the enterprise grade mobile private network.  

 

Smart City/Neutral Host Networks

Whilst AttoCore does not believe that compulsion or incentivisation will be sufficient to cause MNOs to deploy diversified telecoms vendors, including SMEs, in their networks, there is one specific area where government ambitions for rapid diversification in the public network can be realised.

AttoCore is a consortium partner in the 5G Logistics project, which is creating a Smart City, Neutral Host network in Bristol, UK and is a supplier into the Smart Junctions 5G project, which has its own Smart City, Neutral Host ambitions in Manchester. In these Smart City, Neutral Host networks, as the infrastructure is not owned by the MNO, it is here that the diversified network, including multi-vendor O-RAN will flourish.

Both the 5G Logistics project and the Smart Junctions 5G project are testament to this. In both cases, neither the core, nor the RAN is provided by Nokia or Ericson, nor any other tier 1 vendor. In both cases, it is smaller vendors which are providing the technology and of course in both cases, it is AttoCore which is providing the 5G Standalone core. The underlying reason for this is the same in both cases – the procurement of the network has come about not because of the actions of the MNO but because of the actions of the public sector Smart City anchor tenant.

Both projects have ambitions to build these networks into something far greater than their application specific instantiation. In Manchester, the network owners – Transport For Greater Manchester – sees the future maintenance and expansion of the network as being partly funded by private network usage of spare bandwidth, probably through network slicing. In Bristol, Cellnex owns and operates multiple base station sites throughout the city and views the 5G Logistics network as stepping stone towards the creation of a Neutral Host network, offering bandwidth primarily to the MNOs. In both cases, the underpin for the creation of the network is a Smart City concept and the expansion is into Neutral Host. 

Network slicing will be a key enabler towards realisation of this concept. Using network slicing, the anchor tenant can be guaranteed priority and resources to ensure that the public services they wish to deploy are not overwhelmed by third party network usage.

 

Conclusion

With the exception of the incumbent vendors, Nokia and Ericsson, telecoms vendor diversification will benefit everyone. Greater competition encourages downward pressure on pricing, whilst increasing choice and promoting innovation. However, market forces alone will not bring about telecoms vendor diversification in the public networks. In the short term, vendor diversification is much more likely to occur in private networks, where pricing will be keen, where innovation will be a priority and where the legacy account relationships between Nokia/Ericsson and the MNOs count for little. Government has a major role to play by creating a regulatory regime in which private networks will flourish and by directly funding programmes to promote the deployment of networks using SME vendors.

For those looking to champion telecoms vendor diversification, AttoCore is a principal alternative to Nokia and Ericsson, particularly in private networks and Smart City, Neutral Host networks. Scalable, cost effective, flexible and easy to deploy, AttoCore products have been created specifically to address these markets. Lead projects such as Smart Junctions 5G, 5G-AMC2 and 5G Logistics are all exemplars of AttoCore performance in private networks and Smart City, Neutral Host networks. 

 

steve.coppins@attocore.com