Open RAN will foster innovation and reduce time to market of critical features and capabilities that are essential to 5G because of the larger set of vendors that will now be competing in the market, says Rajesh Gangadhar, CTO - Access Solutions, STL.
Q1. What is the operator sentiment towards OpenRAN?
Legacy telecom infrastructure has largely operated on tightly integrated, proprietary software and hardware. They pose challenges of constrained vendor choice, high CapEx and OpEx, and very limited flexibility to telcos. 5G will require an entirely new network architecture with an open and disaggregated network. The new networks must be interoperable and have open interfaces, with the potential to reduce complexity and deliver high coverage. Open RAN attempts to do just that. l. The earlier inertia for open and disaggregated networks has now turned into acceptance. Some big telcos like Rakuten, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Airtel, Telefónica, and Vodafone have already taken firm steps towards Open RAN.
One more reason for telecom operators to transition towards OpenRAN is reduced total cost of ownership (TCO). The democratisation of the vendor ecosystem, virtualisation, and disaggregation of software and hardware can lead to lower CAPEX and OPEX over the lifetime of the network.
Q2. Could you please elucidate the key benefits of Open RAN Virtualisation?
Key benefits of Open RAN virtualisation:
a) It helps service providers create an Open, Disaggregated, and Virtualised 5G solution aligned with 3GPP and O-RAN
b) It opens new ways to architect, deploy and operate wireless networks
c) It can bring substantial CapEx and Opex savings to operators
d) It presents an opportunity to select best of breed equipment and hence fosters innovation and competition
e) COTS infrastructure allows operators to put strong identity certificates in the network at every interface, including radio access
f) Virtualisation helps in allocating network resources effectively and hence overall better performance
Q3. How would this affect RF (radio frequency) component design and integration with system providers?
With Open RAN enabling diversification across the value chain, it is possible to now tap into a broader silicon and component ecosystem. Further, initiatives such as Facebook Connectivity’s Evenstar program enable a seamless design of radio units across various bands and different MIMO configurations. The open interfaces specifications being defined by O-RAN enables radios design by multiple partners to interoperate and integrate with the CU/DU software partners.
Operators are therefore able to choose from a larger pool of radio vendors when rolling out their 5G network.
Q4. Could you please address some of the concerns on the deployment of Open RAN based networks?
Telcos have always been concerned about the deployment of Open-RAN based networks because the shift to open networks comes with its own set of challenges:
a) Will different parts work together seamlessly? Multi-vendor interoperability is not always guaranteed - It is critical that the ecosystem develops and maintains truly open specifications and robust interoperability programs to generate telcos’ confidence in open RAN networks.
b) Can it reliably handle the traffic? - Vendors understand the hyper-dynamic nature of mobile networks. They know that even a small outage can lead to loss of revenue and reputation. They possibly were not confident of utmost stability and reliability in a multi-vendor environment.
c) Do we really need something so complex? – Earlier, telcos never actually felt compelled to switch to open networks because the prevailing level of network complexity was easily handled by incremental innovation. There was no need for drastic changes. A part of this inertia existed because the market leaders were not willing to dilute their proprietary presence to the advantage of commoditised products.
However, the pandemic has brought about a renewed impetus for driving broadband connectivity. It is clear that the digital networks will have to evolve to handle newer use cases, and move to open technologies will be a major part of this evolution.
Q5. While open RAN promises to lower network costs and barriers to entry to create competition through the standardisation of hardware and software, but will this reduce the innovation in hardware and software design?
On the contrary, Open RAN will foster innovation and reduce time to market of critical features and capabilities that are essential to 5G because of the larger set of vendors that will now be competing in the market. They will need to differentiate on cost, performance, operational efficiencies, and time to market.
There are organisations such as Open RAN Policy Coalition, the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), and O-RAN Alliance that offer platforms for R&D for building the next-gen open-source networks by creating interoperability standards. STL, too, is a proud member of the Open RAN Policy Coalition, TIP, and O-RAN Alliance and supports them in their mission to help operators adopt Open RAN technologies.
STL is investing 3-4% of its revenue towards R&D for innovation in Open RAN technologies. Our 5G solutions, which are open source and O-RAN compliant, comprise 5G multi-band radios, smart 5G indoor small cells, Wi-Fi 6 access point, programmable FTTx (pFTTx) solution, and RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) software platforms. We have recently collaborated with Facebook Connectivity to design and develop 4G/5G radio products as part of the Evenstar program to help accelerate the commercial deployment of Open RAN and boost 5G readiness for operators.