All US mobile operators considering deploying OpenRAN

via Flickr © Gary Lerude (CC BY-ND 2.0)

via Flickr © Gary Lerude (CC BY-ND 2.0)

  • Lower cost radios seen as key to widespread OpenRAN interface adoption 
  • Mobile operators willing to buy generation solutions from multiple vendors
  • Concerns about vendor lock-in and interoperability also driving OpenRAN uptake
  • But lack of low-cost RRUs delaying deployments

A new piece of research conducted amongst US mobile service providers shows that every one of them is actively considering implementing an OpenRAN solution for at least some of their key deployment scenarios. It shows yet again that there is an increasing groundswell of operator opinion swinging behind the advantages of general purpose, vendor-neutral software-defined technologies and open interfaces.

The new report, commissioned by Richardson, Texas-based network software and transformation specialist Mavenir, and conducted by the mobile industry analyst organisation Senza Fili (which, in English, means 'Without Wires'), reveals that not only are all US mobile operators and service providers looking seriously at adopting OpenRAN but also that in the process 43 per cent of them are considering replacing their current vendors and OEMs as they seek the best technology at the most competitive prices.

The report shows that respondents are looking to make at least 25 per cent cost savings and to attain that would be quite willing to buy their next generation solutions from multiple vendors.

OpenRAN, a part of TIP (the Telecom Infra Project), is an industry initiative to define and build Radio Access Network solutions based on a general-purpose vendor-neutral hardware and software-defined technology. This main objective of the project is the development of fully programmable RAN solutions based on General Purpose Processing Platforms (GPPP) and disaggregated software so they can benefit from the flexibility and faster pace of innovation capable with software-driven development.

To achieve this, the project helps enable an open ecosystem of complete solutions and components that take advantage of the latest capabilities of GPPPs, both at a software level and also using programmable offload mechanisms such as field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA).

OpenRAN utilises some of the same precepts that pertain to the cloud and SDN and combines them with "white box" networking hardware, a difficult task because whilst some parts of the network stack are 'comparatively' easy to render in software, the RAN certainly is not. That said, the pressures on the next- generation radio access network will be so extreme and intense that new approaches are desperately required if the true potential of 5G is to be achieved.

For example, the new Mavenir research shows that 68 per cent of US mobile operators would consider deploying OpenRAN 4G/5G macro network equipment from RAN vendors either to extend or to increase density of their network. Meanwhile, 47 per cent would use OpenRAN for new greenfield deployments in both urban and suburban areas but only five per cent would use OpenRAN for rural coverage. Significantly, 42 per cent said they would replace their incumbent's equipment.


Affordability is the key

The main reasons given by mobile operators for considering the commercial deployment of OpenRAN solutions in their networks is then, affordability, the reduction of costs and the perception that an OpenRAN solution will be better than relying on legacy equipment.

Other factors attracting mobile operators to opt for an OpenRAN solution are shown to be: Cloud connectivity, compatibility with network virtualisation, demand from enterprise and industrial IoT, efficiency improvements, higher reliability than legacy equipment, interoperability, support for co-existence with the legacy network, new services, robust security, rural and low-density area coverage requirements and good support.

Overall, 28 per cent of respondents, (out of a field of 100 per cent) said that cost is the main driving factor in their considering OpenRAN solutions in their networks and 21 per cent cited worries about vendor lock-in and interoperability. Other drive factor include flexibility (15 per cent), performance (13 per cent) and technology innovation (10 per cent).

Interestingly, 84 per cent of mobile operators say they will consider deploying RRUs and BBUs from different vendors in OpenRAN deployments and 69 per cent believe that the lack of a low-cost RRU is a major obstacle to,or is slowing the speed of, OpenRAN deployments The belief amongst the operators the is that median price of a cost-effective RRU is US$2,000

In a telecoms system and networks RRUs (Remote Radio Units) and BBUs (Base Band Units) are vitally important. The RRU processes RF and the BBU controls the radio head/s and connects back to the core via fibre to a router or routers. It is  responsible for communication through the physical interface. BBU is has a small deployment footprint, uses a limited amount of power and is easy to deploy and it also does an astonishing amount of processing. They are also expensive.

The basic take-away from this new research is that incumbent equipment providers are going to have to look to their laurels and lower prices if thay want to retain market share.

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