Open RAN – the movement in wireless telecommunications to disaggregate hardware and software, to open interfaces and reduce costs is taking off and is the only way to build 5G networks of today and tomorrow.
According to Dell’Oro Group, cumulative Open RAN revenue from 2020 to 2025 could be as high as $15 billion, with Open RAN revenues accounting for more than 10% of the overall RAN market by 2025.
With Open RAN and the “virtualization” it brings, operators are enabled to run software-based network functions on standard commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) servers. With non-proprietary, open interfaces Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) can use one supplier’s radios with another’s servers — something previously not possible. The Open RAN movement enables a broader, vibrant, innovative, cost-effective, open ecosystem of complete solutions.
Open RAN is utilized in All G networks from 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. In telecommunications, 5G is the fifth-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, which MNOs began deploying worldwide in 2019, and is the planned successor to the 4G networks which provide connectivity to most current cellphones today. 5G will account for as many as 1.2 billion connections by 2025according to the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA). 5G offers a completely different spectrum of the network ensuring that it can connect to everyone and bring forth all devices and machines together.
5G technology is designed to deliver multi-Gbps data speed along with ultra-low latency, reliability, and massive network capabilities, which are a few of the key advantages. The higher bandwidth of 5G networks ensures that all users are able to connect more devices at the same time. With 5G there will no longer be slow speeds just because more users are utilizing the same internet connection. 5G will transform industries from healthcare, transportation, manufacturing, automotive, and energy, to name a few.
5G Use Cases
5G will enable many new use cases. Examples include Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) which is a natural evolution to existing 4G networks that will provide faster data rates and therefore a better user experience than current mobile broadband services. eMBB will enable 8k video streaming, immersive (virtual and augmented reality) gaming, video analytics, and telemedicine.
Ultra-Reliability and Low Latency Communications (uRLLC) is a new service category in 5G to accommodate emerging services and applications having very stringent latency and reliability requirements such as smart grids, intelligent transportation systems, and remote surgery.
And Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) caters to scalable connectivity for a large number of devices and latency agnostic applications such as energy meters and connected home appliances. The possibilities and use cases for 5G are enormous.
Open RAN and 5G Standalone (SA)
Today, most 5G deployments are supported by existing 4G infrastructure where 5G radios are integrated into the existing LTE core network. This is known as Non-Standalone (NSA). 5G Standalone (SA) is the best option for Open RAN networks, as it is not dependent on 4G equipment. With 5G SA, the network is simplified with 5G radios complemented by a next-generation open core network. 5G SA Open RAN networks are ideal for new applications as they provide ultra-reliable, lower-latency communications, allowing more people and devices to use mobile data at the same time, thus enabling true 5G connectivity. According to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) Research 97 operators are identified as investing in 5G standalone (including those evaluating/testing, piloting, planning, deploying as well as those that have launched 5G SA networks). And GSA has catalogued 20 operators as having deployed/launched 5G standalone in public networks.
To support 5G applications and services with massive amounts of data, Open RAN networks are the best option for MNOs to integrate a broad ecosystem of software vendors, capture new revenue opportunities and scale for the future. Open RAN networks can provide additional flexibility to meet rigorous 5G application requirements across different industries with varying network demands for performance, capacity, and latency.
Utilizing Open RAN in 5G networks provides interoperability, improved network performance, network intelligence to shape transactions and lowers Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), both Operating Expenses (OpEx) and Capital Expenses (CapEx) through the implementation of cloud-native automation. Cloud-native automation tools such as Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD), Zero-Touch Provisioning (ZTP), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) enable the creation of agile, flexible, elastic, and efficient applications in modern, dynamic Open RAN environments. When automation becomes a key feature of 5G Open RAN solutions, MNOs reap the benefits of not only flexibility of choice and cost savings, but also the agility, scalability, ease of management and upgradeability that comes with the promise of a cloud-native Open RAN solution.
Automated Orchestration and Management is another key benefit from a cloud-native Open RAN solution. Automation with modern tools and technologies can provide several advantages and help at different stages of network deployment, from preparation to rollout of a new network or service, then operating and monitoring the network after roll-out. Automation is also important when it comes to termination or scaling down the network.
The diagram below illustrates the four different stages of network or service deployment and the benefits of automation.
Bringing Up a Site
Once the infrastructure has been set up, the next step is to provision the service or bring a radio site up and running. Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP) is the automated way of provisioning a service with no manual intervention needed at all.
Testing and Upgrade
Once the network/service has been provisioned, any new features, bug fixes or software upgrades and downgrades are done through automation utilizing Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD).
Without automation, it can become a tedious task to send people to the site for software upgrades and testing. This can be time consuming, costly, and prone to errors.
With CI/CD software automation, upgrades and downgrades can be done in seconds or minutes with no manual intervention. This can lead to significant reduction in costs and time.
Once the network or service has been provisioned, it is also necessary to monitor and optimize the network to enhance and fine tune to meet the required user experience. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are key tools to providing intelligent management and operations of the network.
Networks are increasingly complex, and the only way to manage such networks is by having a self-learning and self-decision-making tool which automates the management and operations of the network.
With cloud-native O-RAN compliant Open RAN networks that utilize automation tools and techniques, MNOs get an agile, flexible, efficient, elastic Open RAN solution that enables them to increase their profitability and reduce their Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
To help manage modern wireless cellular networks, the proprietary, closed networks of the past cannot keep up with the scale and scope of what is needed for 5G networks of today and tomorrow, with multiple spectrum bands, highly sliced and multiservice. Intelligence is becoming tightly interwoven with 5G networks and beyond and is an important part of the Open RAN solution.
Eugina Jordan is Vice President of Marketing, Parallel Wireless. She is a self-made immigrant woman, she started her telecom career as a secretary and now is the VP of Marketing of the industry disruptor Parallel Wireless. She is an author, inventor, and a speaker. Her passion is to help other women to realize their full potential.