The Layer123 OpenRan: A Surrogate for 5G Dominance event brought together the key voices in Open RAN to discuss the present and future of the technology. Anil Bhandari, VP Product Management at Altiostar, was one of them, and following his appearance on the event’s super-panel he sat down with Layer123 to go into some more detail on what needs to happen for Open RAN to continue its progress.
Layer123: Where will we see Open RAN deployments in 2021?
Anil: Open RAN adoption has been greatly accelerating over the past year and we expect several more deployments in the next year across both rural and urban environments. Rakuten Mobile became the first commercial scale Open RAN deployment in the world with their 4G launch in April 2020 and then their 5G launch only five months later in September 2020. They have deployed Open RAN in some of the most quality conscious and densest urban markets in Japan, including Tokyo. We are now carrying out large-scale deployments with multiple operators, both brownfield and greenfield, in Asia, North America, and Europe.
What are the biggest blockers to Open RAN adoption?
We understand that operators are used to buying RAN as a bundled offering. We are working with multiple partners to ensure that we provide fully tested and integrated solution blueprints to them. Open interfaces help by allowing operators to pick and choose the hardware platform they want to use, while not being locked into a single vendor.
Given the importance of managing the effect telecoms has on climate change, how power-efficient is Open RAN?
Open RAN has numerous architectural capabilities to minimize energy consumption.
Open RAN with virtualization provides the ability to pool the baseband processing at the data center locations. This resource pooling at data centres helps operators share capacity across many sites, thus minimizing compute requirements and therefore energy consumption.
Operators are also able to consolidate workloads during off peak hours and either turn off the unutilized compute or utilize its compute for non-real time workloads for maximal capex efficiency. With AI/ML based techniques, virtualized Open RAN architectures are expected to bring even higher energy efficiencies.
How can Open RAN providers and users take care of security aspects, both of software and physical infrastructure?
Some in the industry have raised concerns about Open RAN security, stating that open interfaces increase the threat surface. Our view is entirely different, as multiple companies are working together in the O-RAN Alliance to define secure interfaces. Open RAN solutions run on cloud platforms where cloud vendors bring their years of expertise to ensure security for workloads. Also, with an open system, it is possible to identify and fix any vulnerabilities much sooner compared to a closed proprietary architecture. Open RAN also brings in a degree of transparency that was missing from mobile networks by encouraging a zero-trust approach towards security. What this means is that there are no black boxes within the network. All modules have interfaces that can be audited by neutral security companies and can be efficiently replaced if there are vulnerabilities or non-trusted suppliers in the network. Open RAN is introducing a mechanism where controls and checks can be introduced into networks, thus ensuring not only diversity of suppliers but also securing the backbone of networks.
What needs to change in the industry for Open RAN to come into wider use?
We are currently seeing a movement in the industry where brownfield operators have realized that they need to adopt an Open RAN approach in their own networks, and this is starting to change the perception of Open RAN in the market. We are working with many brownfield operators across a wide variety of geographies to introduce this approach into their networks. These brownfield operators include large Tier-1 carriers such as Telefonica across various countries in Europe and Latin America as well as Bharti Airtel in high traffic regions like India. These operators are blazing a trail by actively engaging us and working on introducing Open RAN into their networks.
If telcos choose the Open RAN route, how can they make the adoption a success? Are telcos ready to embrace the DevOps/CiCD culture that making the most of Open RAN requires?
There are three aspects to this. Firstly, when operators decide to deploy Open RAN, it will be a collaborative effort, so telcos and their selected vendors really need to work together to make is a success. Secondly, given that Open RAN involves software virtualization, it is important that design teams are comfortable with cloud technologies. There will be re-skilling required. Thirdly, because closed-loop automation will be done more and more, it is important that engineers have software programming skills.
Finally, how is Altiostar driving change in the RAN area?
It is now clearly established that Open RAN is a necessity. It is no longer possible to sustain innovation using current closed RAN business models. This fact has been realized by the entire industry and almost every vendor is now making announcements for support of Open RAN on their roadmaps. Altiostar was a pioneer in bringing the concept of Open RAN to the industry and we are happy to note the industry momentum in this direction. We have been working closely with the like-minded operators and have notched significant wins across globe. We will continue to drive for disaggregation of the RAN working alongside our partners in forums such as O-RAN Alliance. In five years from now, we envision radio access networks supporting millions of cells that are running on white labeled hardware, programmatically automated and requiring minimal human intervention for service creation and monitoring.