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Sunday , December 4 2022

Kuwait’s digital future lies within the global context

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KUWAIT CITY, May 25: Kuwait’s 2035 Vision aims at transforming the GCC country into a sustainable, diversified economy powered by advanced infrastructure. The infrastructure part is already in place, as the country was among the first to launch commercial 5G networks. 5G enables Kuwait’s public and private organizations to benefit from one of the most innovative sectors of the ICT sphere, the telecom industry.

Behind this progress is the dynamic ecosystem that has grown around international standards bodies such as the GSMA and 3GPP. Further progress has been made in protecting networks through the NESAS/SCAS global security standard certification system, an assurance framework jointly defined by 3GPP and GSMA to improve security levels across the mobile industry.

This global consensus may be at risk, as a US-led campaign to open the RAN market (called Open RAN or ORAN) risks causing cost overruns, exposing networks to security risks, and making network management unnecessarily complex while fracturing the collaborative spirit at the heart of the telecom revolution.

Digging deeper into some of the arguments behind ORAN reveals its inherent contradictions and inconsistencies. The main argument for ORAN is that disaggregating network equipment into individual components will attract competition into the RAN space, thereby reducing costs and spurring innovation. But evidence from early adopters shows such approaches to network design only add complexity without the promised cost benefits. In ORAN architectures, network equipment isdisaggregatedinto seven modules while newseveninterfaces are added, invariably increasing maintenance costs and complexity.

Japan’s Rakuten Mobile, an early adopter of ORAN, has suffered cost setbacks while onboarding lags behind schedule. According to its full-year financial results for 2021, Rakuten Mobile lost$3.62 billion in 2021 YoY, with first-halflosses hitting US$899.8 million.S&P has since downgraded the operator’s credit rating to BB+ because of deteriorating financial conditions and poor prospects. Further, the operator has only connected 2.5% of its user base to the new architecture.

It is clear then the supposed cost benefit of ORAN doesn’t add up, 70% to 80% of the total operational cost for a cell site is OPEX, including site resources, transmission resources, electricity fees, and O&M fees.

Further difficulties arise in the event of a ORAN network malfunction. With no single authority responsible for network performance, identifying and locating problems becomes problematic, made worse byinsufficient professional personnel. Indeed, it may also mean that operators will take up network operations and maintenance rather than network solution providers, who may be apprehensive about managing other vendors’ technologies.

ORAN could also set back Kuwait’s sustainability efforts. Kuwait is a signatory to international commitments to decarbonize its economy, including reducing energy consumption for ICT infrastructure. ORAN goes the other way, as its high requirements for on-site resources and transmission bearer resources send energy consumption much higher than traditional solutions.

But perhaps the biggest drawback with ORAN is cybersecurity. Dividing up base station equipment into its constituent parts inevitably expands the attack surface and increases security threats. Indeed, the industry and regulatory agencies are increasingly concerned about ORAN’spotential security threats.Ericsson has released a security risk report, which argues that ORAN architecture introduces new security risks that must be considered. Germany Federal Cyber Security Authority has penned a risk report,”Open-RAN Risikoanalyse”, which revealed that “medium to high-security risks could be identified in numerous interfaces and components specified in the context of O-RAN”. Meanwhile, the EU has released its own risk assessment on ORAN securityrecently, which emphasises “The Open RAN concept still lacks maturity and cybersecurity remains a significant challenge”.Conversely, we already have in place proven security standards with NESAS/SCAS, which have been used with great success as a unified certification system by global security regulators.

Kuwait is on a fast track to transforming its economy. The digital foundation underpinning this progress is the result of collaboration and partnership. While we welcome innovation in the telco space, adopting any new technology should be considered against its benefits to operators, benefits to equipment vendors, and impact on user experience. Advocates for ORAN have failed to demonstrate how any of those goals can be realized.

By Saeed Mahmoud Saleh
Arab Times Staff

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