6 predictions for Open RAN in 2021

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What is Open RAN? Where exactly it stands today?

Open RAN gained its momentum in 2020 as industry leaders turn on this concept to progress with network deployments of the fifth-generation technology, i.e., 5G. The inception of Open RAN Alliance accelerated the adoption of O-RAN while continuing on the creation of specifications for RAN deployments in near future.

In the wake of Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) deployments, telco players such as Telefonica S.A, Orange S.A., Vodafone PLC and Deutsche Telekom AG are collaborating together to fasten and support Open RAN rollout which is being considered as an ideal choice for future mobile networks and be beneficial for consumers as well as enterprise customers across Europe.

Additionally, Telefonica intends to commence its Open RAN trials in the core markets of Spain, Germany, UK and Brazil with further plans to invest up to 50% of its total RAN Capex budget in Open Ran 5G technologies during the period 2022 – 2025. Deutsche Telekom, a German telecommunications company and an ardent supporter of O-RAN 5G announced to have deployment in Neubrandenburg, a town adjacent to Berlin targeted to provide network connectivity to a population covering 65,000 people.

Few predictions for Open RAN in 2021

Now, that we are about to enter in the second quarter of 2021, we assume Open Ran to increase velocity and drive rapid growth in network deployments worldwide with a handful of upcoming trends as given below:

  • 2021 is the turning point for Open RAN as it becomes mainstream technology

  • Open Ran roadmaps are essential for network deployments - Few examples of operators taking this roadmap

  • 5G as well as legacy 2G, 3G, 4G network deployments are expedited with O-RAN support

  • Driving edge computing with CI/CD while paired with Machine Learning (ML)

  • Increase in Open RAN hardware that supports 7.2 split from RUs to Massive MIMOs

  • Emerging markets witness an uprise in Open RAN adoption due to lower deployment cost

2021 is the turning point for Open RAN as it becomes mainstream technology

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Delloro predicts Open RAN to encompass ~1-2% of total RAN market in the year 2021. Open RAN has made its way towards building an open, agile network driven by software that enables ample services with greater flexibility at low costs. Open RAN and Virtual RAN technologies are gaining huge traction supported by Ericsson and further announcing its adoption towards Cloud RAN technology. Though COVID-19 pandemic caused a bit delay in network deployments of 5G networks, 2021 will be the year witnessing Open RAN trials, identifying challenges, mitigating and gaining opportunities in huge numbers while deploying Open RAN technology in new-age networks satisfying new use cases especially in denser urban areas. Recently, Telefonica announced its plans to link a Live Enterprise Open RAN pilot with its network this year, that will leverage blueprint from UK & Ireland System Integrator.

Dish, a wireless service provider in the United States will initialize the rollout of the world’s second largest greenfield network which will be totally developed under O-RAN technology. It promises to cover 70% of the total population in the US till mid of 2023. With the development of such an innovative network is likely to further test and enhance carrier grade capabilities of O-RAN and identify specific areas that needs improvement to achieve desired results. We can witness more trials and deployments during the current year with operators like Orange and UK’s O2 playing their own part in providing indoor network coverage via Open Ran technology for business consumers.

Open RAN roadmaps are essential for network deployments - Few examples of operators taking this roadmap

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Now, when moving with the approach of O-RAN 5G in deployments of networks like 5G, it is essential for mobile operators to have a blue print that shows timeline to achieve targets and deliver network services to end-users within the stipulated time without simply promising to enable ‘open’ and ‘virtualised’ networks and holding up the progress for long and long time.

One of the telecom leaders, Vodafone, in 2020, promised to deploy networks with equipments at 2,600 sites and committing to make 1,150 sites live as 2023 ends, as a counter response to those who felt that the rollout won’t take place until 2025. Such roadmaps are pressurizing operators to make such commitments. Confidence in developing such systems gives a boost and encourages investment from organizations, funding enterprises, and creates a market for network equipment manufacturers as well.

5G as well as legacy 2G, 3G, 4G network deployments are expedited with O-RAN support

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Modernization of networks with Open RAN technology have opened new avenues for software vendors to make O-RAN solutions with O-RAN RIC (RAN Intelligent Controller) available over radios that is likely being used by operators nowadays. Not only accelerating 5G deployments but also previous networks – 2G, 3G, 4G modernization, deployments, operators expect reduce in overall costs and increase in revenue as they adopt Open RAN technology to rebuild their networks offering resilience in networks with interfaces that are common in structure. However, opening interfaces are always a security threat and demands for implementation of security best practices with a risk-based approach to address Open RAN security risks due to involvement of complex multi-vendor environment. This enables network providers and multiple vendors to cut down the exponential impact of specific threats and respond immediately in case of appearance of new vulnerabilities. It requires additional measures of a trusted software stack, hardware and interoperability between vendors with secured network operations to protect confidentiality, availability and integrity of customer data.

Driving edge computing with CI/CD while paired with Machine Learning (ML)

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Non-stop network deployment processes involve continuous integration and continuous development (CI/CD) and will fuel the need for edge computing for faster execution from network edges. Moreover, mobile operators are clubbing it with new-age technologies like Machine Learning (ML) for improving site automation. Deploying Open RAN systems at the edge have advantages such as low latency, enhanced user experience (UX), less network congestion, optimized network efficiency and computing power enabled locally for devices. All these benefits open up new avenues for use cases like autonomous vehicles, Internet of Things (IoT) support, mobile gaming and many more. As per a report, edge computing will accumulate $7 bn in terms of revenue by 2025. Though cloud players will bag almost two-thirds or more of this revenue, network operators will play crucial roles in developing and deploying RAN sites to provide connectivity to more and more end-users and businesses.

Increase in Open RAN hardware that supports 7.2 split from RUs to Massive MIMOs

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Open Ran technology have interfaces where 3GPP interfaces are not present. With the increase in the usage of Open Ran technology, there will be a surge in availability of hardware components especially elements supporting the 7.2 split. This requirement will lead to ensuring vendor diversity is there and interoperability in future that will permit the mix-and-match process of RUs with DU and CU software deployed on an x86 server.

Emerging markets witness an uprise in Open RAN adoption due to lower deployment cost

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Vodafone, Orange, MTN are some of the leading operators who are using Open RAN to facilitate network coverage in developing markets and will be accelerating this year. Open RAN is expected to be used in emerging markets for new deployments of 3G, 4G, 5G networks with so many features such as vendor choice, lower cost, ease in upgradation of components. All these will help mobile network operators in such market to impart connectivity to a huge population. Additionally, MNOs will be enabled to gain network ROI at a faster pace making Open RAN to become an ideal technology adopted to deploy networks in more and more region in 2021 and the years to come.

Conclusion

Many operators across the globe for instance, in Europe, operators namely Deutsche Telekom AG, Telefónica S.A., are taking various initiatives to rollout Open RAN deployments and build an interoperable network. Open RAN not only supports network deployments of new-age networking technology like 5G but also used to make amendments in predecessors' networks such as 2G, 3G, and 4G. In the upcoming years, we expect to see a lot more trends of Open RAN supporting various use cases as per specific requirements of industry vertical built with the amalgamation of next-gen technologies such as MIMO, edge computing, CI/CD, AI/ML and many more yet to come. Using this Open RAN one-of-a-kind solution, operators can collaborate with multi-vendors to build their networks at a much lower cost and improve overall efficiency with reduced time to commercialize it within the timeline, create sales enablement opportunities by providing network services to consumers and businesses and earn more revenues.