One of the questions put to me during September’s Fierce Open RAN Summit was whether, based on initial deployments, Open RAN is living up to the hype. My first response was that Open RAN is not hype—it’s reality. Open RAN is delivering on its promise and opening up a wealth of new possibilities for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs).
Our recent O-RAN experience includes trials in Europe with Deutsche Telekom’s O-RAN Town; extensive commercial deployments in Asia with KDDI and Docomo; and commercial deployment in the US with DISH Networks. These have told us a lot about how Open RAN is performing in the real world.
Flexibility, choice, and automation
Docomo’s new Open RAN, in Tokyo, incorporates more than 13,000 base stations. They were able to mix and match 15 different Radio Units (RUs) from 4 different vendors. This flexibility and freedom of choice enabled them to create the optimal network with best-of-breed equipment and features. Open RAN also allows multiple RUs to be connected to a single DU, and vice versa.
Speed and ease of installation were another benefit for this customer. With traditional RAN, to get a base station up and running it takes weeks. With Open RAN automation, it takes a couple of hours—and as soon as the radio is up, you can push the software.
Faster multivendor deployment and integration
Multivendor network integration may not be new, but it is new to RANs. Based on our work with DISH Networks, while integration was a challenge at first, now, it takes just a few weeks. Now that multiple vendors have worked together not only for DISH, but also for Docomo, Rakuten, and Deutsche Telekom, the process is smoother and faster than ever.
Factors that optimize O-RAN performance and cost-efficiency
Open RAN helps optimize networks in many ways, but three factors are top of the list:
- Compact, lightweight multi-band radios offer an advantage over multiple single-band radios by giving operators more site selection options. With an increased number of towers to select from, RF engineers have greater flexibility to deploy radios in more ideal locations, providing greater capacity and throughput. Consequently, operators can either improve performance or provide the same performance with less power, lowering operating costs and helping operators achieve their sustainability goals.
- Easy software upgrades mean workers only have to climb the tower once. After that, software upgrades or enhancements can be done at the bottom of the tower.
- Constant competitive pressure that is inherent with open standards technology ensures operators will always get the right balance of performance and cost, for example by leveraging servers across the entire network.
Effective multivendor collaboration
Obviously throughout a deployment, competitors need to collaborate with each other, which initially sounds fraught with trouble. But after going through it a couple of times, the Fujitsu wireless team has built up a playbook on how to collaborate effectively:
- Work closely with the network operator to define O-RAN IOT specifications along with reliability, quality, and network performance KPIs.
- Ensure alignment on IOT Spec agreements by collaborating with the operator and other vendors.
- Document everything rigorously, including all assumptions and interpretations about specifications, to avoid misunderstandings later on.
- CU/DU vendors and RU vendors can swap equipment.
- Use an operator lab for end-to-end O-RAN integration and verification, or establish multiple labs among vendors (ideally, vendors establish their own mirror labs for CI/CD).
What’s coming up?
Obviously, we will see the benefits of Open RAN tested and proven in the field. This will mean increased competition and new innovations as the rapidly expanding Open RAN ecosystem gains breadth and depth.
RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) technology will also bring a new dimension to Open RANs. As AI/ML becomes a bigger part of the picture, operators will benefit from predictive analytics and capabilities to elevate performance and prevent downtime. In addition, RIC enables real-time monitoring, control, and management as well as the ability to dynamically adjust or repurpose the network.
During the recent Fierce Open RAN Summit, I spoke with Alejandro Pinero of Questex about Open RAN deployments, integration, and how to optimize network performance and cost efficiency. You can view the complete session, “Optimizing Performance in the Open RAN Network – Lessons Learnt from early Deployments, Challenges & Opportunities” here.