How OpenRAN can Reinvent 5G for Telecoms


As telecom operators accelerate their advance towards 5G – it is all about making the right set of choices and embrace network evolution that is future-proof. Keeping this in mind, implementing open standards based RAN is giving a whole new meaning to possibilities in 5G and can take operators towards a future where they can do more with their network investments.  

Steve Papa, CEO, Parallel Wireless speaks with Zia Askari from about opening up of new 5G possibilities with OpenRAN and why it is needed by the telecom industry today.

It is quite visible that OpenRAN is directly taking on already established Huawei 5G investments – globally as well as on the US turf. Is this a good and viable strategy? or is this just politicalization of technology? What is your opinion?

The entire telecom industry is going through a dramatic change that can be only compared to the change that Data Centers went through in the 2000s; all driven by Moore’s law. This is driving the need to move from costly, proprietary solutions to COTS and Open-based ones, and create a broader vendor supply chain.

In a mobile operator survey by Senza Fili, 43% of respondents would consider replacing their current equipment vendors when deploying OpenRAN, a quarter of respondents named cost savings as a reason to consider multiple vendors.

The resulting CAPEX cost benefits of selecting OpenRAN hardware are significant as it is reducing dedicated CAPEX hardware cost. Open source designs for the radio software minimizes costs even further. The concept of open goes beyond just standards interoperability.

In theory, a RAN built by any of the legacy vendors is interoperable with any device, any core, any transmission network due to its conformance with 3GPP standards. But the software and interfaces remain either proprietary or optimized by the individual vendor and are often tied to the underlying hardware layer by the same vendor.

Compared to vRAN, Open RAN goes one step further: as a matter of fact, the RAN can be virtualized but not open (for example, if the software or hardware is proprietary, or if the interfaces are closed), whereas in an open RAN environment components and standards exist to enable open interfaces in the RAN.

The vision of the OpenRAN by Parallel Wireless is that it is open within the RAN, with the interfaces and operating software separating the RAN control plane from the user plane, building a modular base station software stack that operates on common-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, with open north- and south-bound interface.

This software-enabled OpenRAN network architecture enables a “white box” RAN hardware meaning that baseband units, radio units and remote radio heads can be assembled from any vendor and managed by OpenRAN software to form a truly interoperable and open network.

This results in benefits such as a lower Total Cost of Ownership (or TCO, according to Strategy Analytics), the CAPEX is reduced by 40% and the OPEX by 34% within a period of five years, compared to legacy RAN).

How according to you can operators future proof their network investments in a cost efficient manner?

The telecom infrastructures are already undergoing a rapid transformation towards applications running on Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) or containers. Now it is extending further to the RAN to separate functions, where every vendor offering can interoperate with other products.

This allows the operators to explore new business models that promote openness and is built on open principles, which enable service providers to benefit from cloud-scale economies and service agility.

Several global service providers are already opting for OpenRAN architecture across ALL Gs to break from the limitations imposed on them by proprietary radio systems.

The OpenRAN network architecture that addresses 2G 3G 4G and 5G, which is programmable, flexible and unbundled, can meet the requirements for improved mobile broadband and extremely low latency for legacy and newer Gs.

The new OpenRAN across ALL G approach allows mobile operators to run just one OpenRAN network. The most significant advantage of the ALL G OpenRAN is that it enables service providers to improve network economics by converging all Gs, including 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G, on one single software platform.

It not only helps in enhancing network simplicity but brings down the cost of managing and maintaining the network. This will allow the unification of legacy brownfield with greenfield so it can be managed as one cloud-native ALL IP network.

What are some of the big benefits (if any) that Open RAN deployment bring for an operator today? (besides being an alternative to Huawei 5G)

Operators need technology that will maximize the value of their existing network assets and give them the capital for a cost-effective migration to 5G. All the components of Parallel Wireless’s solution (software and OpenRAN hardware) are software upgradeable from any G to 5G.

The OpenRAN RAN hardware is software upgradable to 5G new radio (NR) and can support any 3GPPP-complaint RAN split. The OpenRAN software suite from Parallel Wireless offers a 5G native unified architecture for 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, and Wi-Fi.

The future-proof cloud-native architecture supports 5G and beyond, providing the ability to extend investments. The flexibility of the architecture allows SPs ease of migration from any previous G at their own pace and convenience.

We are ideally suited for 5G deployments into existing networks as we help to unify ALL Gs, so instead of managing multiple G, an MNO can manage 5G 4G 3G 2G as one unified horizontal architecture. The 5G OpenRAN technology is an opportunity for the service providers to bring together all the Gs instead of increasing the network complexity by adding one more technology layer.

Virtualization and RAN softwarization allow the service providers to achieve exactly this. The biggest advantage of unification is that it brings down the capital as well as an operational expense and at the same time improves the experience for the end consumer.

So, the upcoming 5G technology is not just about coming up with new services but also is a chance for the service providers to leverage virtualization to simplify the networks. As the MNOs start to plan network architecture for 5G, they can use OpenRAN to consolidate the network and simplify it making it easier to manage and to bring down the CAPEX and OPEX. It also makes it easier for any future upgrades.

By virtualizing the 5G RAN, service providers can now reduce the cost of all generations of deployments, from 2G to 5G.  They can then deliver 5G coverage by making deployments easy and affordable to install and maintain while sustaining a high quality of service for customers.  Software-based network architecture enables operators to utilize the benefits of advanced 5G RANs without deploying the 5G core. At the same time, 5G-like features (i.e. lower latency, e2e slicing, etc.) can be provided for all Gs.

5G-native architecture supports any 5G network architecture option by providing the SP with the flexibility to choose any upgrade path that fits with their strategy. Open network architecture allows integration and interoperability with any OpenRAN NR and Massive MIMO, thereby reducing risk and dependency on any vendor and vendor lock-in.

How do you look at the near term future with Open RAN? Can we expect global adoption of Open RAN across multiple geographies – or will it only mean reinventing the wheel?

Telefónica plans to connect 100 million of people in LATAM with OpenRAN, Vodafone just opened up Europe to OpenRAN vendors and MTN plans to deploy TIP OpenRAN technology at 5,000 rural sites in Africa. There are over 70 (!) mobile operator members now in the TIP membership roster. TIP supports low cost, more competition, and recently started PlugFests to accelerate interoperability between the vendors, to create a tangible ecosystem, and finally encourage trials (8+ more is on the way).

Vodafone will deploy OpenRAN across their properties in Europe. Vodafone’s tender will cover more than 100,000 sites and 400 million people across 14 countries.  “Right now this is the biggest tender in this industry in the world,” Yago Tenorio, head of Network Strategy and Architecture at Vodafone said at TIP Summit 2019. “It’s a really big opportunity for OpenRAN to scale. We are ready to swap out sites if we have to. Our ambition is to have modern, up-to-date, lower-cost kit in every site.”

As for legacy suppliers, we believe that eventually like IBM did, legacy suppliers will need to adapt to OpenRAN, or they won’t survive like Sun Microsystems. We see signs of legacy vendors opening up to OpenRAN with Nokia joining TIP groups. Some 22 operators worldwide have announced tests or commercial deployments so far, and the consultancy iGR estimates that by 2024 Open RAN will be implemented in operators with 47.2% of the global mobile subscriber base.