December 7, 2022
Speaking Openly About Open Networks
A key part of the “open networks” value proposition centers around the introduction of the Non and Near Real-Time Radio Intelligence Controllers (RIC) to bring software innovation to traditional hardware-centric radio environments and to help create RAN management and optimization capabilities that can support a multi-vendor environment.
RIC and RIC apps are uniquely well-positioned to industrialize and democratize the concept of SON (Self- Organizing Networks) by providing an ecosystem for innovation across multiple vendors, overcoming the single-vendor limitations of traditional SON. Recognizing this as a key benefit of open networks, NEC acquired Open RAN systems integrator Aspire Technology in 2022. Aspire is recognized as a pioneer in traditional SON, and has brought that DNA into its approach to helping operators embrace the benefits of multi-vendor SON within open RAN deployment and operations.
The corollary to the RIC story is a key feature of emerging xApps and rApps, which are designed to encourage an ecosystem of innovation around radio resource management. The O-RAN Alliance designed the Non and Near Real Time RIC with the goal of fostering innovation in areas such as power efficiency, advanced traffic steering, and context-based handover management. Longer term, the expectation is that communities of xApp and rAPP support will emerge in support of specific use cases, particularly in support of private enterprise deployments in vertical markets such as ports, mining, healthcare and the like.
In many ways, the emerging vision in support of adopting Non and Near Real Time RIC aligns with the now familiar “app store” concept – in which case the RIC platforms become the platforms for innovation but ultimately the innovation comes from the applications themselves. The razor blade metaphor business model is apt here – the concept of giving away the razor – in this case the RIC – and allowing developers to profit by offering ever-more advanced razor blades at a profit.
However, the razor metaphor only works so far. In the case of razors, the companies selling them are also the companies selling the blades; Gillette blades only work with Gillette razors; Schick blades only work with Schick’s, and so on. In short, a proprietary stack. Similarly, incumbent radio vendors are continuing to embrace a RAN environment in which they can embrace the virtues of virtualization and containerization but maintain control over all elements of radio and baseband.
However, the embrace of Open RAN by most operators worldwide is a clear indication that CSPs are eager to pivot to a 5G environment that can foster innovation from an ecosystem of developers rather than just a handful of large providers. One issue that may be slowing the development of this ecosystem is uncertainty about the specific areas in which operators have identified needs. The industry can help drive growth in an ecosystem of developers by providing clear guidance, a “to do list,” if you will, that identifies types of apps that would be helpful. For example:
- Beam interference management
- Inter- and intra-cell movement prediction
- Time of day/time of month load prediction
- Energy efficiency optimization
The app store concept for fostering RAN innovation is now beginning to take shape. For example, the Telecom Infra Project’s TIP Exchange now offers a handful of RIC applications available for purchase alongside a growing roster of open RAN hardware and software products. By helping clarify where innovation is needed – and what profit pools exist for developers willing to commit to open RAN innovation – open RAN proponents can help accelerate the path to broader open RAN adoption.
Speaking Openly About Open Networks Series:
As operators eye their medium-to-long-term network plans for 5G and beyond, it is becoming increasingly clear that open networks – including Open RAN – will be the way forward for all operators. The journey to a successful open network strategy will require significant planning and preparation on all phases, including network migration, deployment, and ongoing operations. The end result will be well worth the effort. In this series of articles, NEC will address head-on some of the questions operators are – and should be – asking as they embark on their own open networks journey. Read the articles below: