Why OpenRAN is Going to be the Pivot of Future Innovation in Communications Networks
By Rajesh Mishra, CTO
In the last few years, OpenRAN (also referred to as ORAN) technology has gained momentum and continues to gain wider acceptance from telecom service providers across the globe.
Several global telcos, including Vodafone and Telefonica, have initiated the process of transforming their networks with OpenRAN. The technology will also be used for Rakuten’s network in Japan. While Rakuten’s network is a greenfield deployment, Vodafone plans to upgrade its entire mobile cell-site footprint of 120,000 base stations in the UK, Mozambique, DRC, and Turkey with OpenRAN technology. Telefonica used the technology to provide internet in remote and rural areas, as part of the Internet para Todos project to make internet accessible in yet-to-be connected regions.
Service providers are reimagining the networks by leveraging OpenRAN to enhance efficiency, improve the quality of services, and to bring down the cost of network deployment and management.
The coming years are further likely to drive the adoption of OpenRAN technology across the globe. The growing interest in technology means that future innovations are likely to be centered around OpenRAN. Platforms like Facebook’s Telecom Infra Project (TIP), formed with the vision of driving innovation in communications network architecture, further promise to fuel innovation in this.
It can then be said that OpenRAN is a disrupting force and promises to bring a paradigm shift in the way communications networks are deployed. It is emerging as a strong and better alternative to the traditional RAN ecosystem, and it is for this reason that recently a bill was tabled in the US to invest $1 billion to drive the development of OpenRAN technology.
Leveraging OpenRAN to Evolve from CSP to DSP
It is easy to see why telcos are adopting this innovative technology. A key reason why OpenRAN is transformational is that it is crucial to helping telcos move from Communications Service Provider (CSP) to Digital Service Provider (DSP). This transformation is vital to help them address the requirement of new-age subscribers, who expect ubiquitous coverage and high-speed broadband all the time.
Evolving into a DSP helps service providers to reduce network complexity and cost and also to leverage newer opportunities like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Smart Cities. This is also crucial for them to enhance network efficiency as margins continue to fall.
Software-Centric Approach for Simplicity and Enhancing Network Economics
OpenRAN is also enabling service providers to move away from hardware-centric monolithic to software-powered networks for more agility, flexibility, and simplicity. OpenRAN’s software approach ensures that telcos can easily upgrade their network infrastructure and quickly move from 2G, 3G, 4G, or 5G.
Typically, service providers adopt a siloed approach of adding a new layer for every new G. The new OpenRAN approach allows telcos to do away with this. The most significant advantage of OpenRAN is that it enables service providers to improve network economics by converging all Gs, including 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G, on a single software platform. It not only helps in enhancing network simplicity but also brings down the cost of managing and maintaining the network.
The software-centric approach further means that the telcos are able to automate networks for 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT). Besides, OpenRAN inherently encourages openness, ensuring that telcos are not locked in with one particular vendor.
OpenRAN uses the principles of virtualization to disaggregate hardware and software to enhance efficiency and to bring down cost. “The introduction of Network Function Virtualisation is a core structural change in the telecommunication infrastructure marketplace. NFV will bring cost efficiencies, time-to-market improvements, new business models and services and increased innovation to the telecommunication industry infrastructure and applications,” says a study paper on Network Functions Virtualization and Its Impact on Future Telecom Networks by Telecom Engineering Center, part of the Department of Telecommunications.
It spurs much-needed competition in the RAN space. This promises to drive innovation and bring in newer ways to set up a communications network that will emerge. New players, like Parallel Wireless, promise to truly revolutionize network architecture.
OpenRAN technology promises to transform the communications network by bringing improved network and cost efficiency.
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