AT&T Network CTO talks Open RAN and the move towards continuous innovation


At Connected America 2024, we spoke with Yigal Elbaz, SVP and Network CTO at AT&T (pictured, left) about the future of Open RAN and what it means for the operator

At the end of last year, AT&T announced an enormous $14 billion Open RAN deal with Ericsson, a deal Elbaz describes as “one of the most courageous and important collaborations that I can remember in our industry”.

The deal marks the largest commitment to Open RAN architecture by any brownfield operator to date, highlighting the technology’s growing maturity and technical progress.

“I’m very encouraged by the state of Open RAN in our industry,” said Elbaz, noting a steady increase in momentum with Tier 1 operators. “We’re getting to the point where we can get parity in terms of what we can get out of a CPU-based platform, in terms of energy and capacity. We’re seeing the ecosystem building more chipsets that can be used in radios, as well as more radio vendors willing to participate and build products.”

He explained that AT&T’s Open RAN strategy focusses on four key pillars:

Open hardware, with Elbaz noting that AT&T is aiming for “70% of our traffic to flow through open hardware by 2026”;
Migration to cloud RAN, a process that is already underway, with the first activation of cloud RAN with Ericsson on a 5G commercial network last month;
The introduction of 3rd party radios;
And the development of a unified service management and orchestration (SMO) platform that all vendors can connect to.

“If we can work with one management system that lots of vendors can connect with, that gives us a lot of operational flexibility,” he explained.

Taken together, Elbaz argues that this strategy will allow the company to move towards a state of continuous innovation, uninhibited by the typically cyclical nature of RAN upgrades.

“We’re a tipping point [for Open RAN],” he explained. “Eventually, from an operator point of view […] the value for us will be more players, more innovation, more competition. But we’re also getting to a point where we can evolve the network with just the push of software. The transition is not going to be overnight, but we’re finally at the point where the industry is starting to look at Open RAN and say ‘this is the right time for us’.”

“As an industry, we’re going to stop thinking about the universe in 5- or 10-year windows and actually move towards continuous innovation and continuous progress when it comes to wireless systems,” he added. “Networks will increasingly look like software running on cloud with AI introduced. These are technologies that do not work in 10-year cycles – they move much faster. Our ability to adopt innovation will heavily rely on these more flexible systems.”

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