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A midsummer day’s dream: where are we with Open RAN?

With summer upon us, I welcome you to sit back and enjoy this update and recap on the progress of Open RAN over the past several months. We are witnessing a significant shift in network architecture, moving away from traditional setups to a more horizontal and open approach. So, how is this panning out?  What is next?  How far have we come?  Read on for a delightful refresher on all things Open RAN.

Head of Marketing & Communications at Business Area Networks

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Adam takes of him out in an open area with big clouds behind him

Head of Marketing & Communications at Business Area Networks

Head of Marketing & Communications at Business Area Networks

Hashtags
#OpenRAN

In Sweden and in many parts of the world, summer is a time of rest and reflection. A moment for many to take a breath and take a break, often in lovely open spaces like the picture above. The word “open” invokes many feelings and in our industry, openness is quickly becoming an all-consuming topic. I often don’t go a day at the office without referencing or learning more about Open RAN. There is so much to learn and so much to know, that I thought a quick re-cap of where we are in the industry would be a great way to spend a quiet moment during the summer to get up to speed.

Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” centers around the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta, and while I can’t say there are many connections to Open RAN other than a catchy blog title, I do see some links to the first act, where the main characters are at odds in anticipating their wedding. Theseus is unhappy about how long he has to wait while Hippolyta thinks it will pass by like a dream. This can also be true about how our industry is anticipating Open RAN. Many think it will take time, while some feel like it’s already here, and then others who think it’s all still just a dream.

At Ericsson, we are making this dream a reality. We have been actively involved in driving the Open RAN industry forward at scale, making significant progress with key customers and achieving major milestones, including contracts with tier one operators to deploy, test and add support for Open RAN, which will be the foundation to explore and introduce new technologies together.

But, before delving into how we are industrializing Open RAN, it is important to understand the broader context of the telecommunications industry's evolution. We are at the cusp of a transformative shift, moving towards cloud-based, open, and automated network architectures. This shift is aimed at enabling a more open and growing ecosystem of innovation, while also providing greater value to customers and the industry as a whole.

Key elements of Open RAN

Open RAN is a critical component of this future network vision, and at Ericsson, we define Open RAN as encompassing three key technology areas: cloudification, open interfaces, and open management and orchestration systems.

Key elements of Open RAN

 

Three key elements of Open RAN

Cloudification, the first key technology area, involves hardware and software disaggregation and the ability to run RAN software as microservices, embracing cloud-native principles in RAN software design. The adoption of open interfaces, particularly the open to fronthaul interface, is the second key technology area of Open RAN. The third area encompasses open management and orchestration systems, including a non real-time RAN intelligent controller (RIC) that enables RAN automation and supports new use cases such as service differentiation and monetization for operators.

Key steppingstones to industrializing Open RAN

At Ericsson, we have identified several critical areas for industrializing Open RAN, including the shift to cloud-native RAN design principles, leveraging open fronthaul for interoperability and performance, the use of a fully portable Cloud RAN software that is hardware-agnostic, pre-integrated Cloud RAN solutions to simplify deployment, combined with an automated and open network management design and rApps to take advantage of capabilities of an open network architecture.

Key steppingstones to industrializing Open RAN

 

Shift to a cloud-native RAN: One of the significant advancements we have made is the introduction of our Cloud RAN solution, a cloud-native implementation of RAN software, adding to and complementing our traditional purpose-built RAN product.

A cloud native approach allows building and running applications that fully leverage the advantages of cloud computing. It involves using containerization, microservices architecture, dynamic orchestration, and DevOps practices to create scalable, resilient, and adaptable systems that can take full advantage of cloud infrastructure and services.

This approach allows us to maximize efficiency, deliver features faster to the market, and ensure best-in-class functionality for our customers, whether they choose to adopt a fully cloud-native solution or prefer a purpose-built RAN product.

Leverage Open RAN fronthaul: The open fronthaul interface is a crucial element in the Open RAN architecture, and Ericsson have been actively involved in ORAN-Alliance supporting its standardization and adoption. The latest release to the Open RAN fronthaul standard ensures optimal uplink performance with existing fronthaul capacity and achieves the performance levels that meet our customers’ needs.

Ericsson will support the open fronthaul interface standard in our Cloud RAN, purpose-built RAN, and radios, demonstrating our dedication to interoperability and openness in the Open RAN ecosystem. This refined standard augments the interoperability between the O-RU and the O-DU, offering more choices to customers in the RAN ecosystem.

Hardware agnostic Cloud RAN software: Our Cloud RAN software design is built to be fully portable between different COTS (Commercial-of-the-shelf) hardware platforms and cloud environments, allowing for greater flexibility, choice and flexibility for our customers, avoiding vendor lock-in and be future proof allowing the adaptation of new hardware architectures and technologies. Our ambition, together with our partner ecosystem, is to create a multivendor compute ecosystem using BBDEV standard interface.

As an example, our Cloud RAN software can be run on multiple generations of Intel processor, and we have showcased how the Cloud RAN SW running on the next generation of Intel processors.

We are taking further steps in the portability by introducing support of our Cloud RAN software on an AMD chipset, with a next step exploring the possibilities with ARM built processors.

Pre-integrated solutions: To alleviate the complexity and lower the barrier for deploying Cloud RAN at scale, we are focusing on system integration of cloud software on various hardware and cloud platforms. Our approach includes creating pre-integrated solutions in collaboration with hardware and cloud infrastructure vendors to simplify the complexity of system integration. The pre-integrated solutions will be based on two typical cases,

  • System verified solution, based on full stack Ericsson software, including cloud native infrastructure with CNIS. We foresee this to be suitable for operators looking for peace of mind with a single source responsibility model.
  • Validated solution, in which the Cloud RAN is validated with partner cloud and tested to meet the highest Cloud RAN requirements. Such a solutions is suitable for operators that wants a choice in cloud infrastructure solutions and is comfortable with shared responsibility model.

As part of pre-integrated solutions, we also provide integration services that allow operators to customize solutions to fit their network requirements, as well as Cloud RAN support services to ensure life cycle management, service continuity and optimized user experience.

Automated open network management: Furthermore, network management is a critical aspect of Open RAN deployment. We have launched the Ericsson Intelligent Automation Platform based on the O-RAN SMO architecture which includes a network manager, orchestrator, and non-real-time intelligent controller.

The Ericsson Intelligent Automation Platform plays a key role in improving network performance and enhancing customer experience while delivering operational savings through industrial scale automation in the radio access network. This platform enables automation of the network, consistent management of both purpose-built RAN and Cloud RAN, and the addition of new control loops to drive service differentiation and enable 5G monetization.

It also allows CSPs to deploy rApps to optimize radio access network performance across both Cloud RAN/Open RAN and purpose-built RAN networks reducing complexity and operational costs.

rApps: Ericsson is integrating real-time applications (rApps) with Open RAN to leverage the flexibility and interoperability of Open RAN in deploying real-time applications that can utilize the capabilities of 5G networks. This initiative aligns with industry trends promoting innovation in telecommunications services and applications, aiming to enable the development of new, real-time applications and services that can meet the evolving needs of diverse industries and consumers.

By using Open RAN's standardized, open interfaces and protocols, Ericsson aims to enable multi-vendor interoperability, drive innovation in the RAN domain, and create innovative services and applications that harness the low latency, high bandwidth, and flexibility of 5G networks.

We are developing a series of rApps using theIntelligent Automation Platform Ecosystem, with regularly launches of new rApps developed in house but also in partnership with 3rd party providers. As it has its own open software development toolkit (SDK) we add the possibility for communication service providers (CSPs), and third parties to develop new rApps.

Looking ahead – a day dream no more

Looking ahead, we anticipate a significant increase in the adoption and maturity of Open RAN by the end of 2024. We foresee large-scale trials and commercial deployments with key operators, as well as the expansion of Open RAN adoption by additional operators as the technology becomes more mature. Our focus is on enabling the coexistence of purpose-built RAN and Cloud RAN, providing operators with a consistent network view and efficient coordination solutions between the two technologies.

The blog’s title makes cheeky reference to the Shakespearean play, “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” and while it’s hard to tie consistent comparisons when diving into the technicals, the overall concept of Open RAN and one of the main themes of the play can absolutely be tied together. Several scholars and historians have argued that Shakespeare’s theme for this play was the “loss of individual identity” and one such scholar, David Marshall, reflected on the characters: "two construct or put together, two mend and repair, one weaves and one sews. All join together what is apart or mend what has been rent, broken, or sundered." Such a statement can also be true of the Open RAN industry. We are coming together to weave and sew to create new architectures for the networks of the future. And at Ericsson, our vision is centered on open interfaces, delivering best cost and performance, and leveraging the best hardware and software in the industry. Through collaboration with our customers and partners, we are actively enabling an open and growing ecosystem of innovation to drive the future of networks. And what a future it will be. Happy summer everyone!

Read more how Ericsson is industrializing Open RAN here.

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