Is there an alternative to Huawei?
OpenRAN could be it
THE SIGNAL was easy to miss amid the noise of new lockdowns and America’s elections. Earlier this week, Vodafone, a mobile operator, announced that in Britain it would use a technology called OpenRAN to replace some gear made by Huawei, a Chinese firm whose products are considered too much of a security risk to be used in the new 5G mobile networks. It is a sign that the much-discussed Huawei dilemma is not as intractable as it may seem—and a reminder that OpenRAN deserves more private-sector and government support.
在新的居家隔离和美国大选的喧嚣声中，这个信号很容易被忽略。本周早些时候，移动运营商沃达丰（Vodafone）宣布在英国将使用一种称为 OpenRAN 的技术来替代华为生产的某些设备，华为的设备被认为存在太多安全风险，因此无法在新的 5G 网络中使用。这表明，备受讨论的华为困境并不像看上去那么棘手，同时也提醒人们，OpenRAN 应该得到更多私营公司和政府的支持。
In recent years America has conducted a campaign against Huawei, which it worries poses a threat to Western interests and which has built a commanding position in 5G systems globally. Australia, Canada and Japan have already in effect banned Huawei from their 5G networks. In July Britain said it would phase out its gear, and on October 20th Sweden said it would impose a ban, too. More countries may follow.
近年来，美国开展反对华为的运动，它担心华为对西方国家的利益构成威胁，华为在全球 5G 系统占据了制高点。澳大利亚，加拿大和日本实际上已经禁止华为参与其 5G 网络。英国在7月表示将逐步淘汰华为设备，而瑞典在10月20日也表示将实施禁令。可能会有更多的国家跟随。
The trouble is that the costs of ditching Huawei are high: you risk becoming reliant on two big Nordic firms, Nokia and Ericsson, the other main suppliers of 5G gear. In the long run a duopoly is bad for competition and innovation. And in the short run neither firm is infallible. Nokia, in particular, is in trouble. On October 29th it announced a drop in sales of 7% year on year, and its shares plunged by almost 20%. Its new boss said that it had been “clearly behind” on 5G.
OpenRAN is an alternative to relying on either Huawei or the Nordic duo. Along with a related technology called network virtualisation, it changes the rules of the game. To understand why, compare an old tethered telephone with a modern smartphone. One is a dedicated piece of hardware made of customised parts, whereas the other is a general-purpose computer controlled by software that can accommodate any type of app, provided it complies with certain technical rules.
OpenRAN 是一个替代品，可以替代华为或北欧双雄。与称为网络虚拟化(network virtualisation)的相关技术一起，它可以改变游戏规则。为了理解这一点，我们可以将老式的有线电话和现代的智能手机相比较。一种是由定制部件制成的专用硬件另。一种是由软件控制的通用计算机，只要符合某些技术规则，就可以容纳任何类型的 app。
Similarly, conventional mobile networks are made out of specialised equipment, whereas the new OpenRAN kind use mostly off-the-shelf hardware, with lots of code defining what it can do. Because all the gear connects up using standard interfaces, carriers can mix and match products from different suppliers—something that they cannot do today. Operators have more insight into what is going on in their networks and can avoid components they do not trust, such as Chinese chips. They could also save a lot of money and become quicker on their feet.
类似地，传统的移动网络是由专用设备制成的，而新型的 OpenRAN 主要使用现成的硬件，并带有大量代码定义其功能。由于所有设备都使用标准接口连接起来，因此运营商可以混合和匹配来自不同供应商的产品，而这是他们今天无法做到的。运营商可以更深入地了解其网络中正在发生的事情，并且可以避免使用自己不信任的组件，例如中国芯片。他们可以节省很多钱，更快的建设5G网络。
OpenRAN is gaining momentum. Last month Rakuten Mobile launched the world’s first 5G network based on OpenRAN—which helped the Japanese carrier cut investment by 40% (see Schumpeter). It can also put together new services within minutes instead of months, as is the case with conventional networks. In September Telefónica, which has 260m mobile subscribers in Europe and Latin America, teamed up with Rakuten to deploy OpenRAN more widely in its networks by 2025. In America Dish has started to build a 5G network based on the technology. With the notable exception of Huawei, even equipment-makers are coming on board. Ericsson has just announced its first related product.
OpenRAN 势头强劲。上个月，Rakuten Mobile 推出了世界上第一个基于 OpenRAN 的5G网络，这帮助日本运营商将投资减少了40％（请参阅熊彼特）。与传统网络一样，它也可以在数分钟内（而不是数月内）整合新服务。9月，在欧洲和拉丁美洲拥有2.6亿移动用户的 Telefónica 与 Rakuten 合作，到2025年在其网络中更广泛地部署 OpenRAN。在美国，Dish已开始基于该技术构建5G网络。除了华为以外，甚至设备制造商也加入进来。爱立信刚刚宣布了其首个相关产品。
Yet OpenRAN still has problems. The supply chain is untested and may face bottlenecks if demand suddenly surges as more mobile operators sign up. Notwithstanding its roll-out in urban parts of Japan, experts fear that the technology may not yet function well in densely populated cities; most carriers, including Vodafone, want to test it in rural areas first. Integrating the many different products that make up an OpenRAN network is hard. And although the technology lowers the potential security threat from China, it creates new openings for hackers.
然而，OpenRAN 仍然存在问题。供应链未经测试，如果有更多的移动运营商签约，需求激增，供应链可能会面临瓶颈。尽管该技术已在日本城市推广，但专家担心该技术可能无法在人口稠密的城市中很好地运行。包括沃达丰在内的大多数运营商都希望首先在农村地区对其进行测试。整合多种不同的产品组建 OpenRAN 网络是很困难的。尽管该技术降低了来自中国的潜在安全威胁，但它为黑客创造了新的机会。
All this means that governments still have a role to play. They should help tackle bottlenecks by, for example, encouraging investment in the development of specialist chips that power antennae, as well as laboratories that test integration of a network’s components, as lawmakers in America have proposed. They should also follow Japan by promoting a common set of standards among equipment-makers and network-operators that deals with security and mandates at least some compliance with OpenRAN. The choice between relying on a monolithic Chinese firm that is not fully trusted or on a doddery Western duopoly is a rotten one. It would be a lot better to give a new type of technology a chance to thrive.