Open RAN: Clearing Up the Confusion About Greenfield and Brownfield References
The terms “greenfield” and “brownfield” are being used to try to competitively differentiate the virtual distributed unit (vDU) software performance and capability of a vendor- and operator-deployed Open vRAN solution. “Greenfield” refers to a low-capacity network and “Brownfield” refers to a high-capacity network. Contrary to the narrative, the vDU’s that are available today support high-capacity features of 4G/5G, such as Carrier Aggregation, CoMP, and interference coordination, for both greenfield and brownfield deployment.
A Short History Lesson
Since the birth of GSM back in the 90’s, all generations (2G, 3G, 4G and 5G) of mobile networks’ RAN(Radio Access Network) infrastructure interfaces have remained proprietary to the providing vendor. Apart from solutions being provided with “Open RAN” interfaces, this statement remains true today. 3GPP has specified the X2/Xn interface to allow gnb to gnb connectivity, but instead, legacy vendors used this interface as a commercial obstacle, prohibiting mixing of vendor RAN solutions.
As a result, today you cannot overbuild or mix and match proprietary vendor RAN solutions. Regrettably, all the features that are mentioned above, such as Carrier Aggregation and COMP, are proprietary solutions and are vendor-specific. Because of the specific nature of these features, interworking between different vendor Open RAN and proprietary RAN solutions is currently not possible.
Advanced vDU Features
Advanced vDU features, such as carrier aggregation, CoMP and Interference coordination, are possible and available today on vDU offerings. Sadly, these are still vendor-specific solutions because 3GPP allowed propriety implementations. These features need focus by the O-RAN Alliance to schedule open specifications of these parameters.
Today, vDU solutions are being tested under load for capacity and performance. System test, performance, and stability are also being tested. As part of these tests:
- Call model scenarios are run to stress systems with a number of users and for a long duration
- Number of users are loaded based on scenario and customer configuration. The typical common configuration used in lab tests are:
- 100 Active users, 200 connected users per cell
- 200 active users and 320 connected users per cell
- Duration of test varies for each We aim to achieve 24hr+ stability with loaded scenarios at least.
- At the end of each long execution, KPIs are monitored and compared for performance assessments
- Open vRAN performance is shown to be equal to and in some cases, exceed that of existing incumbent [Reference: July FCC Open RAN Showcase – Mavenir presentation]
Open vRAN Networks will Support Advanced Features
The Open RAN industry will add advanced features, and vendors will compete on differentiated vDU solutions. We can expect the O-RAN Alliance and other organizations to standardize interfaces that enable more advanced features in an open environment, and companies like Intel, Mavenir and others are doing great work to implement advanced vDU features on standard server hardware. Operators will be able to upgrade software and processor technology for more capacity and features as they add customers …. like a Tesla customer boosting the performance of their car with a software upgrade.
Vodafone, Intel and Cohere have also demonstrated advanced features that are not available from proprietary RAN providers improving spectral efficiency.¹
Necessary Interfaces for Open RAN Integration into Existing Networks
To allow integration into existing networks traditional vendors should be requested to add the following 3GPP specified interface support in their existing deployments to facilitate integration of new spectrum in current brownfield deployments with new vendors.
(1) Integration on X2 / Xn interface to make it work with another vendor. This impacts features such as
- EN-DC & NSA operation
- Mobility management e.g., handovers
- Load management e.g., eICIC
(2) To share the spectrum or aggregate the spectrum with existing vendor, specification design is needed to support features on existing CPRI/eCPRI interfaces such as:
- Carrier aggregation
- Dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS)
(3) Network optimization currently users proprietary SON interfaces which make integration with new spectrum support and optimization with new vendors difficult
(4) Other features that are more forward-looking, which will require integration with incumbents
- Network slicing (when slices are developed by different vendors),
- IAB (when nodes are developed by different vendors),
- mmWave and unlicensed band anchored on licensed low-band (when band-specific systems are developed by different vendors)
(5) Multi-vendor EMS integration
- vDUs support and will continue to support improved capacity and spectrum optimization features
- Further specification work from the O-RAN Alliance and 3GPP needs to continue to specify common RF optimization and high-capacity features listed above and
- To date, NO RAN network has been built as a multi-vendor, multi-featured network due to proprietary interfaces and algorithms.
- The use of “greenfield”, “brownfield” are being used for marketing purposes, adding confusion to the marketplace.