Here\u2019s a paradox for you. Why is a technology that\u2019s supported at the planning level by 90% of the telcos, and by the majority of enterprises, getting a bunch of negative press? Why is something that\u2019s both 5G and open not being applauded by all?\nI\u2019m referring to the Open RAN model for 5G, of course, and the answer to all these \u201cWhy?\u201d questions could say a lot about our industry and have a significant impact on enterprises looking at deploying private 5G networks or even consuming a 5G network slice of their own.\n\nThe idea behind any Open RAN strategy, the O-RAN Alliance being the most-recognized advocate, is to prevent network vendors from locking in customers and ensure that competition controls the price of deployment and support. Both telcos and enterprises have a long history of believing their vendors try to lock them into deals, keeping competitors in general from gaining traction. In response, the industry has promoted open-model networking based on white-box switches and open-source software. O-RAN came about because while 5G specifications are generally more open, there was still a part of the Radio Access Network (RAN) that was potentially outside that open model. O-RAN defined specifications for an open version, and that was hailed initially by nearly everyone.\nAre vendors undercutting Open RAN's viability?\nRead nearly. Vendor lock-in is bad for users, and bad for up-and-coming vendors, but great for incumbents. Of the top three mobile infrastructure vendors (Ericsson, Huawei, and Nokia), only Nokia is seen as being truly committed to Open RAN. Interestingly, they\u2019ve been at the heart of many of the negative stories.\nWithin the last six months we\u2019ve had stories that the O-RAN Alliance work might be threatened by the participation of Chinese firms that might be subject to US intellectual property restrictions, and Nokia was said to be reconsidering their contribution to the group. Then we had stories that Nokia wasn\u2019t being really \u201copen\u201d in their implementation, then that some countries were losing faith in it. Other stories with this same questioning-to-negative tone have followed. Open RAN has gone from almost 100% positive coverage to stories that say there\u2019s hardly any of it deployed. Operators tell me that they believe this is the work of unnamed vendors who want to protect their 5G opportunity, and the operators tend to shrug it off.\u00a0 When has selling not involved subtle dissing of the opposition?\nOpen RAN doubt can scare CFOs\nEnterprises may be bearing the brunt of this Open RAN skepticism. Most enterprises are struggling to get approval for new network investment, and so going to the CFO with a private 5G story is going to raise a lot of financial eyebrows at best. Since an open-model 5G is likely cheaper, is less vulnerable to lock-in, and follows general technology thinking that favors open solutions, enterprises often frame their projects around an Open RAN model\u2014a model the CFO is now reading bad things about. A quarter of the enterprises who have been considering private 5G say that the negative publicity Open RAN has received has made it harder to get senior management buy-in.\nThere\u2019s not a lot of fairness in this, to be kind. It\u2019s hard to see how the technology in an open-model networking project generates protectable intellectual property, so what does it matter who is supporting the work? Yes, it\u2019s true that many of the telcos have talked about Open RAN limitations, but these are primarily related to support for older 2\/3G services, which the O-RAN Alliance doesn\u2019t define support for. Enterprises don\u2019t need to support those old \u201cGs\u201d\u2014and remember that over 90% of operators say they\u2019re exploring Open RAN. NEC, which wants to get into the 5G business, is basing its strategy on Open RAN. Does this sound like failure?\nIt\u2019s possible that all of this is a sad coincidence, that the China-membership flap is just one of the many political artifacts of our time, and that the media eventually turns on every concept once all the positive stories have been told. It\u2019s also possible that the telcos are right, and a vendor is behind this. I leave it to you to guess who might want to do that, but the key point is that enterprises now face a bigger challenge deciding whether to believe these new criticisms. How many CFOs will play it safe? How many private 5G projects will die on the vine, and will Open RAN skepticism impact 5G deployment by network operators? You need 5G Core to really implement network slicing that would give enterprises a public-private-5G option, and in truth there\u2019s less 5G Core out there than there is Open RAN.\nHow to use RFIs, RFPs for good info\nIf you\u2019ve decided that private 5G is for you, is it possible to get past the hype and misinformation and make a good decision? For enterprises, Open RAN is no more risky than any open-source technology, providing the justification for private 5G is solid and that Open RAN is treated the way open-source is treated today.\u00a0 Your open-source software likely comes from a player who bundles the \u201cfree\u201d software with integration and support services, and that\u2019s what enterprises want for Open RAN. They just need good information.\nTo dig out reality from hype in the Open RAN space, you\u2019ll need to use the RFI\/RFP process as follows.\n\nIssue an RFI, and clearly describe your application for 5G, including just what devices you expect to support, where you\u2019ll need to deploy, and what performance and capacity you need.\nSubmit your RFI to your network equipment vendor and to your IT\/cloud software supplier. Also submit it to Open-RAN leaders like Mavenir and to any of the big three mobile network vendors\u2014 AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon\u2014that will promise an open response.\nIssue an RFP to those who offer the best response.\n\nYour RFI and RFP will either educate and inform you on your best choice or show that private 5G isn\u2019t the answer for you, but either way, you will be able to make an informed choice.\nEnterprise servers used to run on proprietary operating systems, and today virtually all of them run open-source Linux. There was plenty of resistance to that shift, but it\u2019s pretty clear how things turned out. For 5G, Open RAN and open-model network technology overall, are the future, too.\u00a0 The chances are better that enterprises will have a happy and long relationship with Open RAN than with proprietary 5G. Just do your Open RAN homework like you would with any open technology, and you\u2019ll be fine with it.