OpenRAN in the wild: from prospect to reality

The idea of open networking is always popular. But for the reality to live up to the promise, there needs to be certain conditions met – commercial viability, technological availability, and real operator-vendor collaboration from the same songbook.

And for open radio access networks – better known as OpenRAN or O-RAN, depending on the initiative –these conditions are starting to come together. While the idea of disaggregated RAN has been around for some time, the past 12 months has seen a tipping point for adoption of the initiative. With the organisational and standardisation groundwork now in a good place, OpenRAN and O-RAN has moved into real-world trial and active deployments.

It’s easy to see the attraction of OpenRAN from the operator point of view. Disaggregating the hardware and software of transmission networks allows standardised hardware to be installed that is compatible with the software of multiple vendors, meaning operators can reduce dependency on sole suppliers and build a more flexible and cost-effective network. Network owners such as Vodafone and Telefonica have become active proponents of OpenRAN due to the flexibility it offers, pushing open networking within RAN onto the agenda and encouraging the vendor community – even those traditionally benefiting from combined hardware and software – to incorporate initiatives like OpenRAN into their offerings as well

Read more: ‘Mavenir and the march of OpenRAN: ‘Operators are taking power into their own hands’

This co-operation from operators and vendors has led to several new trial rollouts for OpenRAN-based networks, in various markets and use cases around the world. To take just a few examples, networks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Turkey, Zambia and Japan have all trialled OpenRAN recently, with potential deployments for Indonesia, Germany and several Telefónica core markets reported as being in the pipeline.

Another recent OpenRAN project to flip the switch was Vodafone’s rollout of its OpenRAN 4G site in rural Wales. With Vodafone having played a leading role in the Telecom Infra Project’s OpenRAN working group since its inception in 2017, it is no surprise the operator is leading the way in its home market – this OpenRAN deployment is the first of its kind in the UK. The site is powered by Mavenir’s 4G/5G technology, which will initially run on 4G with the option to upgrade to 5G speeds in future, with Vodafone looking to prove the concept on lower-traffic networks before using OpenRAN for more demanding 5G rollouts.

“OpenRAN is the new way forward. At Mavenir, we believe that introducing more competition means real innovation," said Stefano Cantarelli, CMO at Mavenir. "Mavenir is keen to boost the ecosystem in order to make OpenRAN the de facto RAN deployment for 5G and for the new generation broadband mobile networks. We believe in innovation and we believe in dynamic and agile operators in the market. To be agile you do not have to be locked, but free to move and challenge new solutions. We embrace this philosophy, and for this reason we are showing the way by being the first and only industry end-to-end cloud native Network Software Provider.”

The Vodafone OpenRAN experience formed a large part of the OpenRAN: From Promise to Today’s Reality webinar, which took place on 3 September and featured speakers from Mavenir and Vodafone in a fireside chat format. Held as part of the Layer123 World Congress Webinar series, this event looked at not just the Vodafone Wales rollout, but the general status of OpenRAN in networks around the world. In addition, Stefano and Francisco examined the standard characteristics that apply to most OpenRAN deployments – giving valuable insight to any operators planning their own rollouts – as well as an overview of the different forces in the mobile telecom industry and how these could affect the progress of OpenRAN.

You can view the webinar on demand here.