Intelligent innovation or how can open interfaces drive RAN automation?
Ericsson’s intelligent innovation approach is very simple: use standardization where standardization gives optimal results and use vendor-specific where a vendor-specific approach optimizes results. Intelligent innovation is dynamic, agile and a problem solver. It is strongly aligned to Ericsson’s approach to RAN automation which recognizes the O-RAN Alliance service management and orchestration (SMO) platform, including the non-Real-Time RAN intelligent controller (Non-RT-RIC), is a brilliant platform for RAN automation. Ericsson extends this innovation to include today’s existing, purpose-built 4G and 5G networks which make up 98 percent of deployed networks today.
Intelligent innovation is closely tied to Ericsson’s approach and commitment to openness and innovation in the telecommunications industry. So how does it work?
Intelligent Innovation in the Ericsson Intelligent Automation Platform
Ericsson’s Intelligent Automation Platform (EIAP) is a prime example of Intelligent Innovation in practice. The platform uses both [pre]-standardized interfaces to maximize openness to encourage multi-vendor inter-working and open development ecosystems, particularly in the northbound (OSS/BSS) and southbound (network) interfaces, and in closed, vendor-specific components areas like the software development kit (SDK) where speed, agility and control are important.
Ericsson is a strong supporter of the internal, R1 interface, between the Non-RT-RIC and the RAN automation rApps that run on it. The ability to specify, publish and eventually standardize the R1 interface are key to creating an open innovation ecosystem that will allow RAN vendors, communication service providers (CSPs) and other third-party software vendors to build and importantly monetize RAN automation rApps. The Ericsson Intelligent Automation Platform is highly innovative and uses a mix of [pre-] standardized and customer specific approaches on the platform.
 The key O-RAN Alliance interfaces have been proposed and are in the process of being specified. Once specified the expectation is that the interfaces will become standards. Today these interfaces can be said to be “pre-standardized”.
Intelligent innovation - standardization
Ericsson has a very strong track record of leading 3GPP to define the specifications for our 2G, 3G, 4G/LTE and 5G mobile network technology. The utran-UE (Uu) interface, which operates between the user-equipment (UE) also known as the ‘end-user device’ or ‘smartphone’, and the radio base station or eNodeB, is a prime example of the importance of interface standardization. The standardized Uu interface means any phone manufacturer can be confident that the mobile phone it’s produced will work on all 4G or 5G networks, anywhere in the world. As always there is always a requirement to carry out a level of interoperability testing between the device and various RAN vendor equipment because standards can be interpreted or implemented in slightly different manners, but this testing in minimal. Standardization has driven a broad ecosystem of phone manufacturers with access to global markets. For end users, it means they can travel anywhere in the world and use their phone; assuming there is network coverage and their service provider has the requisite roaming agreement. This is not how things were twenty-plus years ago. It’s important to remember that until the introduction of 4G/LTE there wasn’t any global mobile telephony standard. The world was roughly divided into incompatible systems based on 3GPP (WCDMA) and 3GPP2 (cmda2000), which were further broken down into a number of variations as well as country specific standards across the globe. Latin America in particular was interesting because there was a mix of WCDMA and CDMA networks.
In this example there were clear benefits to the industry of standardization to support multiple vendor ecosystems.
Intelligent innovation – Vendor specific
A key component of the Ericsson Intelligent Automation Platform is the platform software development kit, or SDK. The SDK is designed to enable Ericsson, CSPs and third-party independent software vendors (ISVs) to rapidly build automation rApps. This is because the SDK offers: low technical barriers to market entry, low costs to development and, based on the eventual specification or even standardization of the R1 interface, enables monetization across multiple SMO vendor platforms. When deciding its SDK approach, Ericsson made two important decisions:
- Single SDK: There will be a single SDK that will be used by Ericsson’s own product development and services teams and that same SDK will be used by customers and third parties to develop their own rApps. To maximize openness Ericsson chose not to hold back functionality of capability that would restrict or limit the capabilities of third parties to build rApps. There is a recognition in this approach that potentially two or more companies could build very similar or competing rApps but that that was more important than trying to restrict innovation.
- Single-entity ownership: Ericsson plans to publish and make its EIAP SDK widely available but not to release control of the SDK itself by, for example, creating an open-source project around the SDK. The reason for this approach is agility. This approach enables: a) customers and third parties to benefit from the ability to rapidly develop and monetize new rApps using a very high functionality SDK with template applications, APIs, toolsets and guides, and b) having Ericsson retain control of the SDK results in more rapid updates, added functionality and the ability to manage security considerations – essentially the ability to be faster and more agile
This is an example of ‘good openness', with Ericsson having chosen to share a very valuable asset with the industry but also to benefit from the speed and agility that single-entity ownership conveys. Because the rApps developed with the SDK will utilize the open R1 interface to connect to the non-RT-RIC and the O-RAN Alliance A1, O1 and O2 interfaces to connect to Cloud RAN and Open RAN networks the fact that the toolkit used to build those rApps is effectively proprietary doesn’t affect the application.
Openness in purpose-built networks
Unfortunately, in today’s deployed 4G and 5G purpose-built or physical RAN networks the network management function tends to be highly proprietary or vendor specific. There have been some good interworking initiatives, such as the Operational Support System interworking initiative, or OSSii, but unlike Ericsson not all RAN vendors have adopted the spirit or the letter of the OSSii approach. This means that for the EIAP to support non-Ericsson network management systems (NMS) or equipment management systems (EMS) often requires a level of systems integration to support the FCAPS - fault, configuration, accounting, performance and security of non-Ericsson networks.
However, because the EIAP is designed to maximize openness the platform is capable of supporting standardized and proprietary northbound and southbound interfaces with the intent of providing a single, multi-vendor, multi-technology service management and orchestration platform.
Sometimes, all you can do is make your platforms as open as possible and hope that other vendors take the opportunity to leverage that capability to provide what CSPs expect: truly multi-vendor and multi-technology platforms.
The principals of openness
We believe that there are four key principles that create the conditions for ‘good openness’ and that Ericsson’s approach to Open RAN service management and orchestration uses all four:
- Backward compatibility – implement standard interfaces with a migration path to existing technology
- Reward investment – reward innovation and value creation, as creators and contributors need to be able to monetize their work
- Optimized standardization – avoid artificial constraints through over standardization, but leverage the benefits of well-defined and published APIs
- Unified architectural approach – encourage a single industry architecture through collaborations and avoid regional technology splits, such as GSM and CDMA
So, to answer our own question, the use of open interfaces is fundamental for driving RAN automation. In terms of the debate between standardization or proprietary, vendor-specific approaches we believe this is driven by weighing up the pros and cons of each approach. Certainly, in the SMO domain ‘good openness’ means a mix of standardization and vendor-specific interfaces to create optimal outcomes and enable rapid innovation.
Want to know more?
- Watch our new Intelligent Automation Platform video and subscribe to the new Intelligent Automation Guide series.
- Read more about Intelligent Innovation in our new guide
- Read more about Intelligent RAN automation
- Read more about the Intelligent Automation Platform
- Read more about rApps
- Read more about telecom SDK
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