Ericsson Set to Hire Contractors for AT&T Project

Ericsson’s $14 billion Open RAN deal with AT&T is set to create new opportunities for vendors, and possibly for some of the field workers who were recently let go by the radio equipment maker. 

As Inside Towers was the first to report, Ericsson laid off 750 employees at the end of Q3, telling those affected that field services work would be performed by external providers going forward. Now the company is preparing to replace Nokia RAN equipment in the AT&T network with Ericsson radios and base stations. Some of the crews that were terminated may be rehired as contractors, according to one source who received a request to bid on the design and structural analysis for this job. 

Roughly 18 firms received RFQs for the front-end engineering related to Ericsson’s “Rip & Replace” of Nokia gear, according to a source at one of the companies. The source said the bids were due Friday, December 15. Next will come the construction phase, and for this work the source expects Ericsson to try to rehire some of the field services crews who were recently terminated and have not found new jobs.

The replacement of the Nokia gear will impact roughly one third of all AT&T’s network, according to analyst Earl Lum, founder of EJL Wireless Research, who broke this story in a LinkedIn post before Ericsson and AT&T announced it. Lum thinks it would make sense for Ericsson to hire a contractor with a presence in as many of the Nokia markets as possible.

AT&T has worked in the past with SAC Wireless, the field services provider which Nokia bought in 2014, and the teams from SAC Wireless likely installed some of AT&T’s Nokia gear. But with the removal of Nokia from its network, AT&T is also terminating its relationship with SAC Wireless, according to a source who works for an AT&T turf vendor.

No matter how Ericsson chooses to accomplish the Rip & Replace work, cost will likely be a key consideration. Sources are reporting that AT&T is paying Ericsson for its radio equipment, but is not reimbursing the vendor for the labor involved in removing the Nokia gear. 

Ericsson will probably also need to deploy workers to help with the integration of technology made by other vendors. AT&T said in its press release announcing the deal that it “expects to have fully integrated open RAN sites operating in coordination with Ericsson and Fujitsu, starting in 2024.” Then in 2025, AT&T plans to “scale this Open RAN environment throughout its wireless network in coordination with multiple suppliers such as Corning Incorporated, Dell Technologies, Ericsson, Fujitsu and Intel.”

Ericsson deferred questions about who would oversee all this integration to AT&T, and at deadline AT&T had not responded to a request for comment on this part of the project.

By Martha DeGrasse, Inside Towers Contributing Analyst

This article represents the opinions of veteran telecom industry editor and journalist Martha DeGrasse, an Inside Towers Contributing Analyst with features appearing monthly. DeGrasse owns Network Builder Reports and contributes regularly to several publications. She was formerly a writer and editor with RCR Wireless and a TV business news producer.

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