When you hear talk of virtual radio access networks (vRAN), what do you think of?
“Well, it’s not a new concept,” you might say. “It’s been discussed within the telecoms industry for many years, and I’m not sure it’s for me.” After all, it was considered impractical for commercial-grade traffic in the past due to vendor immaturity, lack of standardization, and limited product and feature availability.
But technological advances have come a long way in recent years, so it could be time to rethink.
Following live trials validating such technology for deployment at scale and with expected cost reduction, many network operators now consider OpenRAN a viable solution to define their mobile networks. Bringing higher flexibility and significant cost savings, it eliminates the proprietary vendor lock-in seen as a key reason for slowing down their ability to innovate and differentiate in an increasingly competitive mobile market.
Sold on the idea? Let’s take a look at some of the key considerations and success factors that MNOs should consider when deploying OpenRAN.
vRAN and OpenRAN: latest definitions
vRAN is an implementation of the RAN in a more open and flexible architecture. It virtualizes radio network functions in software platforms based on general purpose hardware and processors.
OpenRAN is a solution – or market movement – supported by the O-RAN alliance, which enables the disaggregation of hardware and software on the radio access network. This makes network deployments – and, in particular, the most CAPEX-intensive part, radio infrastructure – much easier and affordable to deploy, maintain and upgrade. Furthermore, and thanks to its open interfaces, OpenRAN aims to be vendor-neutral, enabling a diverse ecosystem for network operators to choose best-of-breed options for their 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G deployments.
A new set of (software) capabilities
Open RAN relies on software-defined vRAN architecture, so it’s designed to be a cloud-native solution, where radio baseband units are fully virtualized on commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and can be paired with radio hardware from other vendors using an open and standardized interface.
Leveraging a disaggregated network architecture, the Open RAN initiative allows a number of new software-only suppliers to compete in the well protected RAN suppliers’ market and provide network operators with lower-cost radio access solutions from legacy 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, which drives down the infrastructure CAPEX. In addition, these new types of RAN solution often come with built-in automation capabilities, such as self-configuration, optimization and healing, allowing drastic reduction in maintenance OPEX.
Get ready for a hybrid network world
A recent survey commissioned to understand operators’ perspectives in adopting OpenRAN found that all operators are considering virtualizing their radio access in the next few years, but only 43% are ready to fully replace their existing vendors.
There are numerous legacy networks deployed around the globe, which is why Open RAN must address all Gs – including 2G and 3G – because if only 4G and 5G are addressed, MNOs then have two networks to run: legacy and new Open RAN networks. How to make the two coexist is an operational and technical challenge. Faster integration with legacy networks is highlighted as a top factor that could speed up OpenRAN deployments or improve business cases, thanks to a faster time to market driving more revenues.
Furthermore, when asking operators what the main obstacles other than cost are for their OpenRAN adoption in their networks, it is worth noting that performance is ranked first, well above the second highlighted issue, which is lack of interoperability of the new vRAN.
New players, new use cases
All this leads to new opportunities and gives room for new players to come up with innovative and relevant solutions. Parallel Wireless and its OpenRAN offering are a perfect example. This is a software-based solution designed to support ALL Gs (5G, 4G, 3G, 2G and Wi-Fi). It is a unified, cloud-native solution, horizontally distributed, rather than with the vertical silos typically found with legacy solutions. This makes Parallel Wireless’s software-based OpenRAN easy to manage and delivers cost-savings to MNOs using it to modernize or expand their networks.
Infovista shares with Parallel Wireless the same vision on OpenRAN. Both are active members of the same vibrant ecosystem being built around the next generation of wireless infrastructure.
Thanks to Parallel Wireless’s expertise and to field trials assessing various deployment and business scenarios, we now have more clarity on where operators are intending to roll out OpenRAN first. The most popular use case would be to beef up their existing network in areas they already serve, and/or extend their wireless coverage reach in remote places that weren’t viable to cover using a less cost-effective standard RAN approach. Another likely scenario is to use OpenRAN for new greenfield deployments in urban or suburban areas, targeting high-capacity mobile use cases in cities, or offering fixed-wireless access with a more attractive business case thanks to virtualization.
All this needs to be considered when reflecting on what could be the best methodologies, new practices and tools that operators should adopt throughout the full network lifecycle of their OpenRAN network. This covers key activities like network planning, radio and transport design, and network verification and testing, but also vRAN management, performance and QoE insurance, troubleshooting, and multi-domains optimization.
This is where Infovista can help. And this is how we support Parallel Wireless.
“We recently invested in Infovista’s planning solution, Planet. With highly advanced capabilities, it efficiently supports our design of vRAN networks based on our cloud-native OpenRAN technology. Thanks to its proven RF optimization algorithms, using Planet means we can deliver the highest spectrum efficiency to our customers, further improving the cost-effectiveness of our OpenRAN offering,” said Anand Bhaskarwar, VP Systems Engineering at Parallel Wireless.
Click here to learn more about Infovista and the value it can deliver for your organization.
Read Gartner’s recommendations on how O-RAN and vRAN can contribute to CSPs’ success in this report.