First O-RAN Private Network in Germany?

As the largest industrial market, Germany is leading the charge in advancing Industry 4.0 transformation in Europe. The German regulator BNetzA has awarded 88 spectrum licenses to local enterprises in the country to run private 5G networks since it opened applications for local licenses in the 3.7-3.8 GHz range. This is perhaps the most decisive regulatory shift for the telecoms industry for quite a while allowing enterprises to by-pass mobile operators.

Recently, the highly esteemed research institute Fraunhofer IIS announced that it is building a 5G private network based on the specifications of the O-RAN Alliance at its sites in Erlangen and Nuremburg. This will be a completely virtualized solution running on standard COTS servers and serve as an edge computing platform. The Fraunhofer network will be used as a test bed for industrial partners to test and simulate industrial grade private network applications under laboratory conditions.

O-RAN Vendors

Key vendors involved in the network include US small cells company Airspan, Microsoft’s Metaswitch and German company Siticom, which develops and manages communications and campus network solutions for large enterprises in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Airspan is providing its 5G OpenRANGE solution, an end-to-end radio to cloud native software solution running on central and distributed units (CUs/DUs). Metaswitch will supply its Fusion Core solution, a fully automated, cloud native 5G SA core solution designed primarily for campus network requirements while Siticom will act as systems integrator. Beyond the Fraunhofer contract, both Airspan and Metaswitch have partnered with Sitcom to target other Industry 4.0 use cases.

Best O-RAN Target Markets

Counterpoint Research believes that small cells and private networks are the most suitable short-term applications for open RAN and this development supports this view. In particular, disaggregated RAN architectures inherently offer flexibility to suit a wide variety of deployment requirements. This is just one of many private network announcements in recent weeks and months targeting the Germany market. For instance, vRAN software provider Mavenir is also targeting the German market via its partnership with systems integrator Mugler.

However, open RAN new entrants will face stiff competition from incumbent vendors. Both Nokia and Ericsson are launching their own cloud RAN-based disaggregated solutions which will compete head-on with O-RAN based systems. Ericsson recently announced that the main target markets for its cloud RAN solutions will be private networks, indoor environments and venues such as sport stadiums, concert venues, etc.

Ecosystems and Partnerships Vital

In addition, both vendors are investing heavily in developing vertical-specific ecosystems as well as creating prominent partnerships with big-name service providers. For example, Ericsson has developed an extensive enterprise ecosystem encompassing Industry 4.0, IoT and the automotive sector, with more than 70 partners ranging from industrial conglomerates, device and hardware players to software developers and professional services companies.

Meanwhile Nokia has joined forces with Verizon to offer private 5G network solutions to enterprises across Europe and the Asia-Pacific region which will leverage Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud. Ericsson recently acquired US wireless WAN company Cradlepoint, which it will probably leverage to target the enterprise WAN market in Europe. The Swedish vendor also has a private networks partnership with Fraunhofer IPT, the sister institute of Fraunhofer IIS, to develop an industrial 5G research network in Europe. Known as 5G-Industry Campus Europe, it consists of outdoor and indoor private networks and will be used to test 5G and IoT applications based on Ericsson technology.

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