Open RAN (Open Radio Access Network) interfaces have become an important part of building 5G mobile networks. It is an intelligent Radio Access Network (RAN) integrated on general-purpose platforms with an open interface between software-defined functions. The Open RAN ecosystem enables enormous flexibility and interoperability with complete openness to multi-vendor deployments. Its architecture is designed for building virtualized RAN with AI-powered control, which is the key to tame the 5G complexity.
5G will accelerate the variety and volume of data traffic, further shattering constrained legacy service delivery models and impacting network economics. 5G will also see the deployment and management of countless virtual applications and their relationships. This will be beyond human capacities and for this, the network will need to be intelligent. Though this kind of intelligence may be satisfied through virtualized networks, it is possibly through the accelerated innovation of Open RAN that the 5G network will be able to evolve fastest.
However, network economics needs to change. Many operators are turning to alternative architectures that drastically reduce their CAPEX and OPEX costs. The shift towards software-based technology and end-to-end virtualization opens the door to new automated, faster-to-deploy, and less-expensive technology options. While networks today have been limited by walled garden technologies, the new and forming Open RAN ecosystem provides a solid foundation for greatly improved network economics with a vendor-agnostic ecosystem of open source components, software, hardware, radios, and open interfaces.
A key component for such a future-proof network is the Virtualized RAN (vRAN) – a key virtualized application of the Open RAN ecosystem – with architecture and interfaces that are already fully specified and open, and supported by the top global mobile operators.
Nowadays, Greenfield and multi-national operators are keen to use Open RAN standards because they see significant cost savings. In a Greenfield deployment scenario, it is estimated that the total cost of ownership can be roughly 26% lower for an Open RAN network, based on more competitive pricing on radio equipment, maintenance contracts, and software.
Foreseeing 5G technology, Open RAN architecture leads towards a multi-vendor environment with interoperability functionality. One of the performance benefits provided by Open RAN is the ability to add artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) based network optimizations with a standardized API so that the open community can contribute to applications to optimize the network without having to provide the entire solution. Thus, automates the operation of the network functions reducing OPEX.
Open interfaces eliminate proprietary hardware to facilitate the multi-vendor ecosystem which could lower CAPEX through increased vendor competition and network system improvements. This will make it easier for smaller operators with limited resources to adopt Open RAN. It’s both time and cost-efficient in terms of deployment. Openness also provides operators with an opportunity to customize the network to suit their own unique needs with the ability to select the best solutions for different parts of their radio networks. Operators do not have to wait for customized hardware and a set of features from a single vendor to start their deployment. Operators can go with whichever vendor(s), who is/are ready with the features they need and enable competition between vendors to serve their deployment needs on time. These new market players will future-proof the network’s evolution.
The spirit of the Open RAN movement is a positive one that should lead to an innovative, lower cost and, hopefully, safer 5G-driven ecosystem. But the stakes are high and the path is new. As the industry moves towards 5G, we need to balance pioneering zeal with healthy caution if we are to create secure networks.