Four Misconceptions About The Complexity Of Open RAN
Published as part of the Forbes Technology Council series.
Open radio access network (Open RAN) is a telecommunications concept that aims to disaggregate traditional network elements, such as hardware and software, to create a more open and flexible wireless network infrastructure. The process promotes interoperability and vendor-neutral interfaces, allowing operators to mix and match components from different vendors rather than relying on a single supplier.
By enabling greater flexibility and scalability in network deployments, Open RAN has the potential to bring more players into the market and accelerate the deployment of 5G networks. In a closed RAN, where equipment interfaces are not open, an operator can only buy RAN equipment from very few incompatible suppliers. This can lead to vendor lock-in and a lack of innovation for operators.
Right now, though, there are misconceptions about the complexity of Open RAN that could be hindering its adoption and seeing it reach its full potential. While there are still challenges facing the adoption of Open RAN, this article will address a few misconceptions and concerns:
1. Open RAN is too complicated to implement.
While it’s true that integrating Open RAN into existing telecommunications infrastructure can have its challenges, the perception that it is overwhelmingly complex is not accurate. Over time, industry collaborations and standardization efforts have simplified the process.
Open RAN architectures aim to provide a more modular and flexible approach, making it easier to replace or upgrade individual components or suppliers. The Open RAN systems integrator, as in traditional RAN, would be responsible for end-to-end system performance and for ensuring operator KPIs are met.
2. Open RAN lacks performance compared to traditional networks.
With proper planning and optimization, it can deliver better performance than traditional networks. In fact, the modularity of Open RAN could enable more efficient resource allocation and improved network management.
Performance tests conducted with other vendors and operators can ensure smooth interoperability when added to an existing—often referred to as a “brownfield”—deployment. These tests are being conducted with the operators monitoring performance metrics compared to the traditional RAN.
Technology can also help with measuring and optimizing Open RAN performance. Near real-time (RT) RAN intelligent controller (RIC) and non-RT RIC platforms open the RAN to support innovation from third-party vendors with hosted xAPPs and rAPPs to optimize the radio network and improve user quality of experience. This can permit an operator to improve spectral efficiency and minimize the energy cost per bit even with user equipment mobility changes, load variations and changes in signal strength.
In a closed RAN system, the visibility of information exchanged across the various interfaces is limited only to the vendor that supplied the units, which can limit the information that is sent to the operator. There are no solutions like the near-RT RIC in closed RAN systems.
3. Open RAN requires a rip and replace of existing infrastructure.
This is a common misconception, but Open RAN is designed to be compatible with existing network infrastructure, according to the O-RAN Alliance, allowing for a gradual and phased approach to integration.
The operation of an Open RAN network can also be easier with the available tooling currently in use with cloud-native software. This tooling enables configuration, provisioning and monitoring of each element with cloud-native software being continuously tested, upgraded and delivered in live deployments.
4. Open RAN lacks vendor support and ecosystem maturity.
Initially, Open RAN faced limited vendor support and a less mature ecosystem. However, the industry has witnessed significant progress in recent years. Almost all established vendors and new entrants (over 115 vendors to date) are actively participating in Open RAN initiatives, offering a broader range of compatible equipment and software solutions.
Enabling Networks Of The Future
Open RAN is about open standards and demonstrating interoperable interfaces—if it doesn’t interoperate with other vendors’ solutions, it’s not an open network solution.
The Open RAN industry has seen rapid global adoption in both greenfield and brownfield networks. As the industry works diligently to redefine 5G with new 5G services and more spectrum, Open RAN will play a key role in providing:
• A new set of vendors for both 5G Non-Standalone (NSA), where the new 5G network is interconnected with the existing 4G network, and 5G Standalone (SA) networks which only use 5G.
• Service and technological innovation.
• Decreased cost by capacity reservation.
• Simplifying operation and network downtime due to advanced network management.
• Increased spectral efficiency.
With expertise and careful planning for successful integration, Open RAN can bring potential benefits such as increased flexibility, cost efficiency and innovation in the telecommunications industry.