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Leading Middle East telecom companies including Etisalat Group, stc Group, Zain Group, Mobily, and du, from Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (EITC), have agreed to collaborate on the implementation of Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) solutions in their existing telecom networks, exchange industry knowledge and experience to drive innovation for the ICT sector across the Middle East.

The five operators signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to confirm their commitment to deploy Open RAN across their footprint, providing an opportunity to traditional RAN vendors to adopt open interfaces, software and hardware to build more agile and flexible mobile networks in the 5G and 4G era, support new entrants with innovative solutions and achieve cost efficiencies in RAN deployments.

Under the arrangement, operators and the telecom ecosystem can benefit from the availability of interoperable, competitive and commercial grade Open RAN products, building a framework to exchange best practices and technical outcomes.

As far as the operators’ customers are concerned, Open RAN technology can enable swift services catering to the local market requirements with faster time to market while using the most advanced mobile access networks. With operators focusing on introducing software capabilities in the Open RAN environment, it will bring technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the forefront.

Commenting on the development, Hatem Bamatraf, chief technology officer, Etisalat Group, said, “This is an extraordinary opportunity for the Middle East operators to come together to promote the development of an open technology that will help to enhance the flexibility and efficiency of our networks. I am excited about this partnership that will foster a diverse and secure 4G/5G ecosystem based on Open RAN solutions. This is also a testimony to Etisalat’s commitment and leadership in innovation in the ICT sector and to development and adoption of Open RAN ensuring the best network experience for our customers.”

Meanwhile, Haitham Alfaraj, senior vice president of technology and operations in stc Group, said, “stc is committed to the introduction of latest technologies and innovative 5G/4G mobile networks solutions. Today’s announcement signals the entry into a new era of operators’ collaboration in Middle East to accelerate the development of Open Network technologies, which helps in diversifying our strategic technology growth.”

“Our commitment has always been to deliver a best-in-class mobile network to our deserving customers. This is an exciting milestone in stc’s digital transformation journey; stc will continue to endeavor to always lead the market towards digital transformation, in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030,” he added.

Nawaf Al Gharabally, Zain Group's chief technology officer said, “This joint and innovative initiative by like-minded and visionary regional mobile operators is truly inspirational as it brings multiple benefits to all our stakeholders and further enhances the Middle East telecom sector’s position on the ICT world map.”

“Mobily is keen to strengthen this partnership, which copes with the latest innovations in ICT sector, as it improves the services provided to customers and build an advanced open access network. The implementation of Open RAN solutions supports flexibility and provides more innovation in managing the network for more efficient operations. Mobily is willing to exert all efforts for the success of this partnership and forge several partnerships that push forward the development and innovation in the ICT sector,” said Eng. Alaa Malki, chief technology officer at Mobily.

Meanwhile, Saleem AlBlooshi, chief technology officer, du, said, “Driving innovation and Open RAN deployment is the shared responsibility of every telco operator. At du, we are committed to working with our regional counterparts, which will enable us to create further value by increasing infrastructure flexibility and efficiency while accelerating technology adaption and network expansion across the UAE.”

With Open RAN, the industry hopes to work towards standards and technical specifications that define open interfaces within the radio system, including hardware and software, so that networks can be deployed and operated based on mix-and-match components from different suppliers. Operators will be able to draw on the reinvigorated supplier innovation to drive cost efficiencies and more flexibly deliver customised services in response to evolving customer demands.

The introduction of Open RAN, virtualisation, and automation will enable a fundamental change in the way operators manage networks and deliver services. Operators will be able to add or shift capacity more quickly for end-users, automatically resolve network incidents or provide enterprise-level services on-demand for the industry.

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