OnQ Blog

Developers: Introduction to Open RAN

Aug 26, 2021

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Introduction
Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN) is a hot topic in the cellular industry. It involves the development of interoperable open hardware, software, and interfaces for wireless cellular networks. The time seems to have come for traditional cellular network operators to look at new ways to spur innovation, adopt interoperability, and lower costs. In this blog post, we’ll look at the fundamentals of Open RAN that developers should be aware of, what is driving its adoption, the trends driving growth, and how current leadership is helping to deliver success.

Components of the 5G virtualized RAN for rapidly scalable innovation.

What Exactly is Open RAN?
To understand the strategic advantages of Open RAN, let’s start with the Radio Access Network (RAN). The RAN is the last mile at the network edge in a cellular network. It comprises a cell tower with an antenna that interfaces with a wireless device to transmit/receive data on a radio frequency (RF) signal. The remote radio unit (RRU) interfaces with the antenna on one end, and a baseband unit (BBU) on the other. The RRU connects to the BBU through a common public radio interface (CPRI) and converts RF signals into data and vice versa. The BBU manages the base station, including operating, maintenance, and signaling processing and connects to the cellular network.

The traditional RAN architecture relies on specialized hardware and software from a single vendor that controls the whole RAN. The lack of cross-vendor relationships stifles innovation due to proprietary equipment and interfaces that use hard-coded logic and algorithms that offer little or no flexibility, a lack of choice, and higher costs.

The tenet of Open RAN is to move beyond this approach to provide an interoperable design based on vendor-neutral hardware and interfaces that support open, community-based development standards. An interoperable ecosystem is designed to allow operators to mix and match all RAN components from different vendors. The flexibility of working with new vendors helps bring the innovation needed to allow developers to provide new solutions and services.

What Is Driving Adoption?
Many operators are interested in adopting the Open RAN disaggregated architecture, which fundamentally changes the RAN vendor ecosystem. By allowing multiple vendors to supply commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware aligned around interoperability and open standards specifications, they are free to choose best-of-breed solutions rather than inflexible one-size-fits-most solutions.

Additionally, by opening up the playing field for more nimble vendors, Open RAN should see more innovative products and services offered by vendors in their area of expertise. This diversification is designed to help operators potentially improve time-to-market for new functions and features while reducing the total cost of ownership.

Benefits of Open RAN

What’s Driving Growth?
The Open RAN approach inevitably is designed to benefit developers as it can facilitate the creation of new products that were once just a mere idea. Let’s look at a few of these trends and how they can help developers build solutions, improve the development environment, and benefit end-users.

Timing is Everything – Many operators are currently deploying 5G networks, which provides an opportune time for them to look at Open RAN for more open, standards-based, software-centric virtual platforms. Not being constrained by vendor choice, operators can be more flexible and nimble in what they offer developers.

New Service Opportunities – The adoption of Open RAN can spark a shift in how operators manage networks, what they deliver as services, and how they are delivered. With vendor choice comes new operational flexibility and intelligent automation that could fundamentally shift how they offer managed networks. Introducing a decentralized, competitive vendor environment means that operators can offer more features and capabilities

For example, consider a vendor specializing in delivering network slicing, and subdividing the wireless network into virtual network levels. One network level is used only for automated driving to ensure that safety-relevant notifications are prioritized over other infotainment services used in parallel. The ability to add or shift capacity automatically to provide on-demand services could significantly bolster these emerging areas of development. For a developer working on autonomous vehicle solutions, utilizing an operator that provides this level of control could be significant.

Meeting New 5G Demands – An open disaggregated RAN is designed to provide operators with the flexibility needed to successfully meet new demanding 5G application requirements. New verticals such as smart cities, industrial IoT, and autonomous vehicles have varying network requirements for performance, capacity, and latency. Open RAN is designed to meet these needs at a more reasonable cost. To truly realize and facilitate the innovative directions developers are headed with the advancements in areas like artificial intelligence and natural language processing, the flexibility of Open RAN, coupled with the capacity of 5G, could be game-changing.

Conclusions
Watch for more news on Open RAN as it is gains momentum and is expected to expand rapidly. ABI Research predicts the Open RAN market will exceed the traditional RAN market for the first time around 2027-2028.

Collaborative leadership, like the recent announcement of Vodafone and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., can help to ensure the success of ORAN. Joining forces to develop the technical blueprint for Open RAN vendor diversification will be essential steps.

We also announced our second-generation Qualcomm 5G RAN Platform for Small Cells (FSM200xx), the industry’s first 3GPP Release 16 5G Open RAN platform. The FSM200xx platform is designed to improve coverage, power efficiency, and reliability of 5G mmWave and Sub-6 GHz technology to reshape the development opportunities created for smart industries.

This leadership will help guide Open RAN vendors through the compliance process and provide the assurance that operators and manufacturers are investing in solutions based on these designs. More information on Open RAN standards, and strategic details can be found at 3GPP, O-RAN Alliance, and SCF.

Qualcomm 5G Platform for Small Cells (FSM200xx) is a product of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

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Rajan Mistry

Sr. Staff Engineer, Qualcomm Technologies

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