Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece John Baker of Mavenir explains how OpenRAN is about open and Interoperable element specifications.
In the last decade, competition and choice in the mobile network supply chain has dwindled. Globally there are now only a very small number of vendors providing closed, proprietary systems, especially in the Radio Access Network (RAN).
In addition, recent bans or limits on the participation of vendors labelled high risk have effectively further restricted the choices for mobile operators in many countries while directives to rip and replace banned equipment have also imposed additional costs.
Unsurprisingly, many Governments have begun pushing for more diversification in the vendor supply chain, and many mobile network operators have been searching for secure, reliable, cost-effective alternatives to the closed proprietary systems supplied by the incumbent suppliers.
We firmly believe Open RAN is the answer to these demands. Open RAN is not a technology. It is an architecture characterized by open and interoperable interfaces between all the elements of the network. By allowing multiple suppliers to compete to provide different subcomponents within the RAN, Open RAN injects competition into the supply chain for 4G/5G networks at all frequency bands (including millimetre wave) while also supporting earlier network generations.
Rather than a restricted choice, operators now have freedom of choice in how they construct their networks – there are now more than 60 Open RAN suppliers – which opens the door for even more innovation.
Open RAN is not a technology, and has to be differentiated from Open vRAN, which is an Open RAN system implemented using cloud-native (virtualization) technology. Very often people use the term Open RAN to indicate both, but Open RAN could be implemented with legacy technology.
We believe that Open RAN delivers substantial benefits,
- It results in cost efficiencies estimated at 49% CapEx savings within one year and 31% OpEx savings over five years.
- The ability to move the RAN to the cloud offers potential energy cost reductions, as the RAN processing can now be shared among many cell sites and also allows for more efficient management of network traffic load fluctuations during the day. Modelling of the traffic profiles over a 24-hour period across different types of cells, demonstrates that power savings in the range of 30-55% can be achieved.
- Open RAN increases security. Open interfaces and “Zero Trust” principles allow multiple independent parties to continuously test the security of the network elements and the system. This makes it more likely that any vulnerability or threat is detected and remedied. Open interfaces also support more virtualized network functions, enabling additional security controls through micro-segmentation and containerization.
- It opens up networks to more participants, with competition and innovation benefits. As Rakuten, DISH and other MNOs have demonstrated, it allows complete system integration with a broad supplier ecosystem
Three years ago, to fill the gap in existing 3GPP specifications, several MNOs founded the O-RAN Alliance to help support open and interoperable interface specifications. Today, the Alliance is led by 28 operators with some 240 suppliers participating. However, the O-RAN specifications have not yet been adopted within 3GPP standards.
Now, in a Ministerial Declaration, the G7 Digital and Technology Ministers have recognised the potential of emerging open and interoperable network architectures. We welcome the acknowledgement that it is essential that the development of digital technical standards is underpinned by transparency, openness of process and participation, relevance and consensus-based decision-making.
The Framework for G7 collaboration on Digital Technical Standards is a step in the right direction. As part of that commitment to international collaboration G7 Governments should work together to review the effectiveness of the governance and operational frameworks of global and regional standards setting bodies.
G7 Governments have an opportunity to support an increase in participation by smaller Open RAN vendors in the international standard setting organizations and advocate for the advancement of open and interoperable interfaces in global standards.
Participation in standard setting bodies is expensive and resource intensive, which has hindered the ability of smaller Open RAN suppliers to meaningfully participate. Correcting such dynamics in standard setting will contribute to creating a level playing field where smaller, innovative Open RAN vendors can compete alongside legacy suppliers.
We are encouraged by the significant investments announced by several G7 nations such as Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA, who are significantly supporting Open RAN and opening up their markets to a greater competition and innovation as they build their next generation networks.
Governments can help accelerate large-scale Open RAN development – and overcome the dependence on, and lock-in of, legacy vendors caused by closed proprietary architecture – by using R&D funding and financial incentives for challenger vendors and mobile operators adopting Open RAN networks.
John Baker is Senior Vice President of Business Development at Mavenir, and a board member for 5G Americas, and the Open RAN Policy Coalition. John leads the 5G team at Mavenir, intent on disrupting the market by transforming operator network economics.
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