Industry Consortium Creates i14y Lab to Drive Open RAN

Digital Network SD-WAN

The German Federal Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) supports the i14y Lab with 17 million Euro funding. The lab will accelerate time to market for disaggregated network solutions and be of great importance to building an ecosystem of such vendors in Germany and Europe.

Digitalization requires more flexible and powerful networks, and network disaggregation promises to deliver more flexibility, innovation, and choice for all market players. The testing and integration work done at the i14y Lab will be crucial to developing the collaboration and the standards required for this open, disaggregated approach.

Federal Minister of Transport Scheuer: “We are launching an innovation incubator ‘Made in Germany’! The Open RAN Lab, which we are promoting, is an open platform that enables the networking of market players and accelerates technical development. All interested market players have access and can collaborate and learn from each other there across the board – whether network operators, network suppliers, or new players such as startups or SMEs. In the Open Lab environment, they can research, try out, validate and develop new, innovative products and business models.  In this way, we are strengthening Germany as an industrial and technology location and make our communications technology fit for the future.”

i14y Lab is an open lab led by DT and operated by a consortium of partners that will match the funding provided by the BMVI with their own investments, which will put the funding for the i14y Lab at 34 million Euro over the next 3 years.

The consortium is made up of BISDN, Capgemini Engineering, Deutsche Telekom, EANTC, Fraunhofer HHI, highstreet technologies, Nokia, Rohde & Schwarz, Telefónica Deutschland, TU Berlin, Vodafone Deutschland.

The lab will furthermore be supported by and working closely with OCP (Open Compute Project), ONF (Open Networking Foundation), ONAP (Open Network Automation Platform), the O-RAN Alliance and the TIP (Telecom Infra Project). Partners and supporters together form the user forum, which is open for participation by other interested companies, especially SMEs, working on applications as well as equipment and development.

As an open lab it is built for collaboration within the wider telecommunications community. The i14y Lab Berlin will be the central location and core node of satellite locations such as Düsseldorf and Munich.

The initial focus will be on the development of Open RAN, a new approach to building radio access networks by disaggregating hardware and software, using open interfaces. An open, flexible, and programmable Radio Access Network (RAN) as part of network disaggregation enables many new capabilities to be introduced for 5G networks.

It fosters innovation by supporting the introduction of advanced capabilities, provided by different vendors and new entrants, for example Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms that can automatically optimize the network. Open and standardized APIs will enable a robust and active telecom ecosystem, allowing new applications to be developed, with strong network performance and security.

Interoperability and integration testing will be a core task for the lab. For network disaggregation to work, open standards must be developed that enable multivendor interoperability of the components.

The lab provides the infrastructure necessary for conducting integration tests, giving insight into the efforts required to integrate disaggregated components towards a deployable state. The goal is to provide an environment for end-to-end integration and performance testing and ultimately a market-ready certification.

At the DT Innovation Campus Winterfeldtstraße in the heart of Berlin, the i14y Lab will provide infrastructure and support for testing and integrating the components of the open, disaggregated networks of the future to the wider community working on this topic.

With interoperability at its heart, the labs name uses a commonly used abbreviation, where the 14 stands for the number of characters left out between the “i” and “y” of the word interoperability.

The interoperability and integration tests to be carried out may take the form of multi-vendor events such as the plugfest organized by the O-RAN Alliance and Telecom Infra Project. Such events, in the early stages of technology development, are the best method to bring vendors together for the first time and allow them to interact with the greatest possible freedom.

To accommodate the changing requirements from initial integration to E2E testing while adding other components into the mix, i14y Lab will also be given a future-proof, modular and expandable structure.

This service-oriented architecture based on the idea of a Lab as a Service (LaaS) will make the resources of the Open Lab available as an API. In this way, the satellites of the lab, operated by the consortium partners Telefónica and Nokia, will also be connected.

This will also enable an open end-to-end test environment necessary for the goal of realizing as many functions as possible in the network of the future with the help of components from open eco-systems.

Beyond testing, there are research needs expected regarding the increased complexity of multi-vendor systems. The i14y Lab will lay the engineering foundations for the development of market-ready end-to-end solutions. The consortium partners TU Berlin and the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute will contribute greatly to this area of work done at the lab.

Therefore, the i14y Lab is of outstanding importance for the rapid development of a German and European ecosystem of system component providers, software suppliers and system integrators as outlined in the Open RAN MOU signed by major European operators in January 2021. It is intended to expand a synergetic interaction between industry and research, and in Germany help develop a well-founded, holistic expertise for this new systematic approach. It will foster better collaboration, co-creation and co-innovation between academia and industry for the advancement of Open RAN and disaggregated network technology in general.

As such it is an open lab, with openness and collaboration at its core, and open for cooperation with other companies – crucial qualities for creating a new ecosystem of disaggregated network solutions.