Smart successfully tests Open RAN RIC, another first in the Philippines

Via Smart Communications

Dec 14, 2023

PLDT’s wireless subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) has successfully tested a fully functional Open Radio Access Network RAN Intelligent Controller (Open RAN RIC) proof of concept.

In partnership with NTT DOCOMO, INC., Smart is the first in the Philippines to achieve this milestone, which was conducted at the PLDT-Smart Technology Innovation Center (Technolab) in Makati City featuring various use cases involving actual Smart services, such as voice call, YouTube, mobile gaming, video streaming, and video calls, among others. 

The demo also highlighted the technology's capabilities, such as traffic steering, optimization of network power consumption, and handover policy optimization, using a combination of equipment from various vendors with NTT DOCOMO's OREX* RAN and OREX SMO (Service Management & Orchestration) frameworks, showcasing the openness of Open RAN RIC and its potential to enhance network operations while lowering cost.

Smart was also the first in the Philippines to test Open RAN technology during the first quarter of 2023, having explored the technology and architecture for almost four years as part of the company’s initiatives to harness new technologies to better serve customers.

Among Open RAN’s promised benefits include enabling operators to save on service delivery cost, be more flexible and agile, and make their networks more intelligent—features which Smart aims to leverage, not just to elevate customer experience but also to provide more affordable services.

Now on its second phase, this Open RAN PoC is now focusing on testing the “Intelligence portion” of Open RAN, which allows the network to leverage on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) in the future. During the testing, Smart was able to demonstrate the power of RIC by installing and enabling open software called xApps and rApps, which are applications designed to optimize radio access network performance through near real-time and non-real-time applications, respectively.

Smart tested several intelligent applications, including traffic steering, power consumption optimization, and auto handover policy optimization. While some of these features are already available in Smart's Self-Optimizing Network (SON), Open RAN RIC will enable Smart to open up its Radio Access Network (RAN) platform for fast and easy onboarding of open-source applications developed by industry experts, regardless of vendor affinity.

The ability to choose any vendor for software and for hardware separately, at any time, will enable Smart to achieve flexibility and agility, as well as open up a vast ecosystem with more options. This ecosystem is also expected to lower vendors’ prices due to increased competition and further foster innovations in the industry.

“With our successful test of the RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) at the PLDT-Smart Technolab, we are more confident that Open RAN will bring value by making our network more intelligent and efficient. This is a major milestone in future-proofing our network by leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning in our radio access network and making it ready for future new services to our customers,” said Eric Santiago, FVP and Head of Network at PLDT and Smart.

“The potential of intelligent power optimization of Open RAN cell sites through the use of RIC rApps also positions us to reach our sustainability goals for our future networks,” Santiago added. 

PLDT also foresees that the rollout of Open RAN RIC among operators in the Philippines could create a new industry in the country.

“If we rollout Open RAN RIC in the Philippines, Filipino IT and software developers can invent and develop software for the Philippine telecom industry. This in turn will enable mobile operators like Smart to localize the software supply, and potentially boost the country’s economy,” Arvin Siena, VP and Head of Network Strategy and Transformation office at PLDT and Smart.  

PLDT and Smart's initiatives to harness innovation and enhance their networks through new technologies are aligned with the Group's commitment to the Government's overall digitalization thrust to narrow the digital divide as one of the founding members of the government-mandated Presidential Private Sector Advisory Council (PSAC) under the Digital Infrastructure Pillar, represented by its President and CEO Alfredo S. Panlilio.

These also boost PLDT's aspirational multi-year transformation, with elevating customer experience as one of the key priorities, as well as contribute to the Group’s endeavors to provide connectivity to all, bringing the benefits of the internet to more communities while integrating sustainable solutions in the Group's daily operations.

Smart’s successful testing of Open RAN RIC is part of its achievement as a Co-lead in Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN)'s Operating Disaggregated Networks (ODiN) project. NGMN is an international alliance of leading and most advanced mobile network operators in the world. Smart is heavily involved in NGMN’s ODiN project together with its international partners who leads the telecom industry such as Deutsche Telekom, Bell Canada, Orange France, Telecom Italia, and China Mobile. ODiN project aims to guide Network Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) and decision makers all over the world in their journey towards end-to-end disaggregation. NGMN’s ODiN project has already published two white papers and a Cloud Native Manifesto, which are available on the NGMN website.

 *OREX is an Open RAN service brand by NTT DOCOMO and multiplex global partners.

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