Open RAN MoU telcos tackle energy efficiency and security as they provide tech update

Ray Le Maistre
By Ray Le Maistre

Mar 23, 2022

  • The quintet of European telcos that signed an Open RAN MoU have provided some key updates
  • They have issued their Open RAN Technical Priorities Release 2 document
  • It includes a particular focus on energy efficiency
  • They have also issued an Open RAN Security White Paper

The Open RAN story looks like it’s heading into a new chapter, as more and more big names put their weight behind the disaggregated, open architecture and key issues related to capabilities, efficiencies and specifications are further addressed. Moving the story along today is the quintet of European telco giants – Deutsche Telekom, Orange, TIM (Telecom Italia), Telefónica and Vodafone – that have been collaborating on Open RAN developments since they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in early 2021.  

Last year, those operators quickly set to work on publishing a document that provided a set of “technical requirements that the signatories of the Open RAN MoU consider priorities for Open RAN architecture.” That was published in May 2021. (See Open RAN MoU operators publish their tech wish list.)

Now the operators have updated that document to publish the Open RAN Technical Priority ‘Release 2’ Document. The first document focused on the main scenarios and technical requirements for each of the building blocks of a multi-vendor RAN, with a focus on the delivery of systems that adhered to the open fronthaul interface as defined by the O-RAN Alliance and with full interoperability between the radio units and the baseband elements (distributed and centralized units), as well as interoperability with legacy networks, support for multiple frequency bands, RAN sharing and more. 

The updated priorities build on those requirements “with the aim of promoting a fully automated and interoperable Open RAN system,” notes Orange in a note sent to the press. The focus in this second set of documents is on developing further requirements related to SMO (Service Management and Orchestration), in particular with additional details on CI/CD processes and lifecycle management, and the Non and Near Real-Time versions of the RIC (RAN Intelligent Controller), with a particular focus on APIs, use cases and the testing of interfaces. 

As the operating system and ‘brain’ of a fully-fledged Open RAN architecture, the RIC, it’s fair to say, is attracting a lot of attention from operators and vendors alike, and is seen as the area where there is the greatest opportunity for innovation. 

Cloud infrastructure and particular data transport network requirements for the fronthaul, midhaul and backhaul sections of the network are also addressed.

The update also includes a separate document dedicated to energy efficiency, a topic that was already high on the agenda for all network operators of traditional as well as next-gen/open networks even before the current international crisis that has sent energy costs soaring. 

The ‘Energy Efficiency Summary’ focuses on:

• The choice of power efficient hardware 

• The KPIs for reporting energy usage and efficiency across hardware and software levels 

• The RAN features that can improve energy efficiency 

• The intelligence and orchestration to automate energy efficiency features 

• The energy efficiency targets for each of the network components   

The debate around energy efficiency and Open RAN, and indeed the overall total cost of ownership (TCO) of Open RAN deployments, has been simmering during the past six months in particular, mainly because there are so few real world deployments and statistics that can be analyzed for a full economic assessment of the capex, opex (including energy consumption costs) and resulting revenue opportunities that accompany an Open RAN deployment. Open RAN supporters say great progress is being made and that, before long, Open RAN will offer better outcomes than traditional systems – proof points will be needed, though.

Alongside the Technical Release update, the five telco heavyweights have also published an Open RAN Security White Paper to tackle one of the most contentious areas of Open RAN – the debate about whether open network architectures are less or more secure than traditional systems will likely never end. The paper focuses on “all security aspects within Open RAN technology, describing the risk-based threat modeling and remediation analysis conducted within the O-RAN Alliance for building an effective Open RAN security architecture. In addition, it provides details on the Open RAN Security Focus Group (SFG) activities, which focuses on developing the four security specifications that are the pillars of the Open RAN security architecture. These include threat modeling, security requirements, protocols and tests.”

The five operators note in the paper: “The security of Open RAN is of vital interest to European operators as reputation, trust and legal duty demand that Open RAN systems are secure before any commercial roll-out. The MoU is supporting the O-RAN ALLIANCE Security Focus Group (SFG) to define the security architecture and helping to achieve a common vision of what the security standards required for O-RAN systems.”

All of the documents can be found and downloaded from the ecosystem resources section of the O-RAN Alliance website. 

The release of the new documents comes only a day after NTT DOCOMO unveiled a broader international push for its Open RAN Ecosystem (OREC) initiative and the launch of a ‘shared lab’ for remote Open RAN testing. (See NTT DOCOMO unveils ‘shared lab’ as it takes its 5G Open RAN Ecosystem global.)

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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