The future of networking is changing in several ways, and enterprises, vendors and operators have options to choose from when implementing networking technology.
In this blog roundup, two networking bloggers discussed how networking is shifting toward cloud-based and open-model networking. For example, revenue for open radio access network (Open RAN) deployment has increased five times over what it was this time last year, according to Dell'Oro Group. This is thanks to developments beyond proprietary RAN, such as open source RAN and public or carrier cloud deployment.
Just as carriers have more options with open-model networking, enterprises have several options to choose from when it comes to picking a vendor, due to an emergence of networking startups. However, companies are often hesitant to make the shift toward choosing new vendors.
Nevertheless, options for networking technology have moved beyond the standard vendor choices, creating benefits for those enterprises that choose to switch.
Sticking with one vendor is riskier than changing
Enterprises can choose from a plethora of available networking vendors, yet Cisco is typically regarded as the most common vendor among enterprises. Although Cisco has never held the entire networking market share and its significance has waned to a degree, no other vendor has established as much of a presence, according to Ethan Banks, IT blogger and podcaster. But popularity may not necessarily indicate preeminence, Banks wrote in a blog post on his website.
Despite Cisco's prevalence in the networking industry, Banks said its competitors offer comparable services in terms of price, features and usability, among other factors. Yet, Cisco's continuing dominance remains because companies assume it will be challenging to adopt new technologies from other vendors. However, switching vendors isn't as much of a challenge as many enterprises may believe because enterprise networking stacks are based on a common set of technologies, he said.
"The solutions are similar enough vendor to vendor to look familiar once you've worked with one of them," Banks wrote. "From this perspective, changing a networking vendor is not adopting a new technology. Not really."
Banks said it may be more of a long-term risk in terms of opportunity cost for enterprises to stay with the same vendor. Additionally, staying with an incumbent vendor isn't just a choice to stick with what is familiar; it's also a "rejection of other competitive vendors and projects," Banks wrote. In the end, it is valuable for companies to invest in new services to keep up with the changing networking landscape.
Various options to implement 5G RAN
Telecom operators have a few options for building out their 5G RANs, largely between proprietary RAN and Open RAN, or O-RAN. The O-RAN Alliance has endorsed Open RAN adoption throughout the industry, citing how Open RAN gives vendors more options between hardware and software due to its disaggregated components.
Tom NollePresident, CIMI Corp.
Open RAN deployment appears to be here to stay, as many operators have invested in the open model. In a blog post, CIMI Corp. President Tom Nolle wrote that one motivation for operators to consider Open RAN is the benefit of not being restricted to one vendor. However, operators also dislike the integration that comes with open technologies, preferring single-sourced components.
Some operators that found themselves in this conundrum -- such as Ericsson and Nokia -- created their own open models, enabling them to provide their own open elements in "critical places," Nolle wrote.
But many operators aren't as large or incumbent as Ericsson and Nokia, and they don't have the capabilities to build their own open model. Another option, Nolle said, is 5G as a service, which provides already integrated, open technology and helps users avoid vendor lock-in. This option has risen in popularity so much that it has created a secondary trend of "5G communes" in which operators share a single 5G deployment. Public cloud providers can adopt this method of 5G RAN because they can "mix all the model options for 5G," Nolle said.
"The future of networking is the cloud, period," Nolle wrote.
Open RAN revenues skyrocket as deployment increases
As more telecom operators move toward Open RAN deployment, the shift has reflected in revenue. Stefan Pongratz, vice president at Dell'Oro Group, wrote in a blog post how estimates showed Open RAN revenue has increased five times year over year in the first quarter of 2021 alone. Much of this increase is owed to operators in the Asia-Pacific region, Pongratz said, and Japanese operators, such as Rakuten, are optimistic about the benefits Open RAN will create in the industry.
Macro deployments are the largest source of revenue for Open RAN. According to Pongratz, the revenue numbers reflect "the state of the overall RAN market and the current focus by operators deploying Open RAN." In addition to the large dominance of macro deployments, Open RAN small cell investment is also increasing.
Big names like Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and ZTE continue to lead the massive multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) RAN market. But Open RAN supporters believe smaller RAN vendors still have an opportunity to join the massive MIMO market because the industry is shifting toward the need for wider bandwidths. This will provide a "window of opportunity for new entrants," Pongratz wrote.