The future of 5G and 6G is without a doubt the Open Radio Access Network. The industry discussed innovation at the Future of Connectivity FYUZ event from October 25 to 27 in Madrid, Spain. Mobile leaders agree on the disruptive potential of Open RAN but recognize that collaboration, scaling and standardization are the biggest challenges.
The Open RAN Summit was hosted by the Telecom Infra Project and the O-RAN Alliance. It included leaders and representatives from Vodafone, Intel, Orange, Telefonica, Dell, Lenovo, Accenture, Mavenir, USAID, Meta and others.
The challenges of Open RAN
Open RAN is a new approach to building and deploying telecom infrastructure where most of the hardware is replaced by virtual machines running in the cloud. Open RAN makes deployment and scaling faster and cheaper, but it does not come without many challenges.
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Because hardware, software and telecom companies work together to create an open virtualized cloud network, standardization is critical. Open RAN requires collaboration not only among operators, as technology companies have to manufacture devices that are compatible with the new system.
Open RAN is also proposed as the solution to rapid 5G deployment. However, the technology requires something which the telecom industry has never done before: Switch business models from competition to collaboration.
Additionally, the technology opened the doors for numerous new companies developing parts of the network, and this overabundance of vendors poses another challenge: interoperability.
Open RAN gaining momentum globally
The OpenRAN Project Group of TIP announced they had accelerated the development and deployment of open, disaggregated and standards-based technology solutions that deliver the high-quality connectivity that the world needs.
The industry defined a new approach to building networks, as global consumers push traffic demands to new levels. To meet the needs for fast, reliable and cost-effective connectivity services, the TIP Fixed Broadband Project Group established the Open Fixed Access Networks sub-group. The group is a collaboration between major industry players, including Telefonica, TIM and Vodafone.
“At Telefonica, we fully support this new project as the next step towards the commercialization and deployment of technologies based on robust and mature industry standards,” said Jose Torrijos Gijon of Telefonica. “Ultimately, we believe the Open Fixed Access Networks project will play a critical role in the adoption of new technologies and new services as we prepare for the next stage of evolution in our access networks.”
TIP is now focusing on improving interoperability and diversity in the network. They are accelerating innovation through the modernization of operations and the deployment of Open RAN architectures.
“In Vodafone, we see that openness and disaggregation are key principles that allow us to build the flexible and agile network we need to support our evolving customer needs,” said Bruno Cornaglia, fixed access senior manager at Vodafone, during the event. “Our work in this area complements similar work elsewhere in the network.”
Open RAN disaggregation presents an opportunity for the supply chains to broaden as new hardware and software suppliers join in. TIP added 141 new Open RAN product listings from 53 technology suppliers on its TIP Exchange. These include products from Comba, Dell, Fujitsu, NEC, STL, Supermicro and many more technology providers, but as supply chain providers increase, interoperability between them and integration becomes paramount.
Open RAN roadmaps, resources and skills
The organization also released Open RAN’s Roadmap (Figure A), which are detailed technical requirements documents and resources for companies working to scale and integrate the technology. TIP presented the results of validation and testing solutions, operating labs, live networks and partner labs from worldwide projects, revealing the strong momentum that Open RAN trails and deployments are having internationally.
In India — in the largest global 5G deployment — the most comprehensive Open RAN 5G blueprint test validation was completed. TIP made the blueprint available for other industries to accelerate RAN architectures deployments for 5G networks.
System integrators, mobile operators, technology companies and others in the industry are working with TIP to develop global Open RAN solutions, and TIP members are on the rise. The organization now has over 130 service providers, more than 90 vendors and 140 system integrators.
To accelerate integration, TIP launched the TIP Testing and Validation Framework. The framework eliminates the need for extensive third-party integration or in-house testing. The goal is to lower the barriers to market entry and provide faster routes to the market for innovation.
“Open RAN vendor consortia are commonplace now, and Open RAN systems are being tested, certified and commercially deployed, but we need a path to scale through training up system installers, integrators and operator technical experts,” said John Baker, senior vice president of ecosystem business development at Mavenir.
Because Open RAN is a new technology, training experts is essential. TIP partnered with Accenture and began leveling up professionals through the TIP Academy. With a focus on giving the necessary skills for industry professionals entrusted with the responsibility to accelerate the deployment of Open RAN, they created 45 Open RAN courses.
TIP Academy courses cover the end-to-end fundamentals of financially evaluating, architecting, planning, designing, testing and deploying Open RAN systems. Vodafone, Meta, Accenture, Orange and Deutsche Telekom are some of the first companies that have signed up to train workers at the TIP Academy. The courses have further been enhanced through the contributions of the TIP ecosystem, including Rimedo Labs, Spirent, NEC, Rebaca, Intel, Analog Devices and IBM.
Increased vendor diversity and economic growth opportunities from Open RAN networks can also help close the digital divide in emerging markets.
“Through our International Open RAN Initiative, USAID is advancing these opportunities by upskilling current and future telecommunications professionals,” said Tom Koutsky, senior connectivity policy advisor at USAID. “We are excited to partner with TIP and their TIP Academy to help meet this important need in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.”
The virtualization of the networks can create an open collaboration system and significantly remove many obstacles that connectivity faces as it modernizes. To solve challenges, technology companies, mobile, software and major operators are collaborating like never before to build today the global Open RAN network of the future.