Mobile and cellular connectivity have become indispensable in our lives in the past two decades. Multiple technological innovations are increasingly being adopted within cellular networks for better customer experience and higher operational efficiency. In addition, there has been an interesting shift in mobile networks, which is going unnoticed by users: The adoption of Cloud Technology.
Cloud Technology is fundamentally changing digital connectivity through Network carriers, enterprises, and OEMs. Traditionally a monolithic underlying infrastructure, critical components of cellular networks are being re-architected for the cloud.
The evolution towards cloud is being orchestrated around the heart of mobile networks – the Radio Access Network (RAN).
RAN connects a user’s device with the core network. The specialized equipment that RANs run is purpose-built, and their supply chain depends on a handful of global manufacturers. Also, RAN was traditionally a closed-loop, with the hardware tightly integrated with the manufacturer’s own software.
This has led to the RAN market being dominated by a few organizations. The lack of interoperability within the RAN infrastructures forced the network operators into vendor lock-in and complete dependency on equipment supply from exclusively one vendor. This also creates an obstruction to entry for any new vendors of the RAN market in the absence of open interoperability standards.
Organizations must remodel their networks & keep up with customer demands, drive operational efficiencies, & engineer new products and services.
The power of cloud technology is helping networks become more flexible and intelligent. As networks evolve, there is an increasing need for a disaggregated RAN, where separate blocks/modules build up a network- a block for radio hardware, one for orchestration software, another for monitoring and so on. This would help build an optimized network that’s more suited to the operator’s requirements- modular and customer-centric.
Cloud technology offers new innovative solutions for Radio Access Network (RAN) deployments to be vendor-agnostic and more interoperable. Open RAN is one such solution.
Open RAN is an industry term for open radio access network architecture with open, interoperable interfaces and hardware-software disaggregation. Open RAN enables big data and AI-driven innovations in the RAN domain. To realize this in scale requires leveraging cloud technologies and web-scale paradigms, which leads us to Cloud RAN.
The main motive of Open RAN is to facilitate interoperability standards for RAN elements within a cellular network along with white box hardware and software from different vendors. Thus, the Open RAN standards aim to change the siloed nature of the RAN market.
The software-enabled Open RAN network architecture brings a “white box” RAN hardware approach. This approach enables the operator to assemble the baseband, radio and remote radio heads from any vendor. These units can then be managed by Open RAN software to form a truly interoperable and open network.
Open RAN is evolved the way operators build mobile network infrastructure. It brings scalability, flexibility, interoperability, automation, and innovation to the RAN. To fully realize the benefits of Open RAN, operators need to pursue a cloud-native virtual RAN (vRAN) implementation.
A report by Analysys Mason suggests that the economic benefits from OpenRAN could add USD285 billion in the real gross domestic product (GDP) globally, in addition to USD19 billion in real consumer surplus gains, over the next ten years (2021 to 2030). By the end of this period, Open RAN could add USD91 billion to global GDP annually. The exact impact of Open RAN could be significantly higher depending on factors such as cost-efficiency improvement relative to solutions with proprietary interfaces, the ability of Open RAN to support and accelerate the adoption of new technologies, and the pace and level of adoption by operators.
According to Telecom Infra Project and Analysys Mason report, Open RAN solutions will be able to satisfy mass-market use cases (including 5G dense urban deployments) from 2023. Operators would start adopting Open RAN solutions by 2022 for a subset of deployment scenarios.
By the end of 2025, it is estimated that about 70% of mobile subscribers will be able to be served with Open RAN solutions and that adoption levels would lead to 40% of those needs actually being served by Open RAN. This would result in about 30% of global mobile subscribers being connected via an Open RAN solution, including open and interoperable solutions provided by incumbent vendors.
According to Juniper Networks, RAN drives 70% of the network CAPEX with equipment that comes from a particular supplier.
The roll-out of 5G services and the Open RAN revolution has created the opportunity for best-of-breed cloud innovation within the RAN domain. As commercial deployments of Open RAN to become a reality, it is paving the way for strengthening partnerships within the ecosystem towards innovation towards RAN deployment, management, and customer value creation. Furthermore, open RAN would make networks economically viable & offer networks the freedom to become interoperable.