Reimagining Deployment Economics with Parallel Wireless OpenRAN

Parallel Wireless
March 31, 2020

By Steve Libbey, Parallel Wireless

Years of consolidation have left the telecom industry with just a couple of Radio Access Network (RAN) technology vendor giants. These companies, however, now risk becoming obsolete as the telecom industry starts demanding networks that are open and flexible in order to reduce deployment and maintenance cost.

Radio Access Network Technology
The RAN is a significant expense for mobile operators in what is already a capital-intensive industry. Legacy RAN networks built using the technology of the major vendors is typically hardware-centric and designed in silos for each generation (e.g. 3G, 4G) of connectivity. The technology is ‘closed’ by its nature, which means that it is incompatible with other vendors. Subsequently, networks have been very difficult to adapt and upgrade, with the hardware giants dictating the timing and cost of any maintenance and installation.

Carriers need a new approach to open and unify their networks. This is why many companies in the telecoms industry are enthusiastic about the prospect of OpenRAN. In a mobile operator survey by Senza Fili, 43% of respondents said they would consider replacing their current equipment vendors when deploying OpenRAN; a quarter of respondents named cost savings as a reason to consider multiple vendors. The resulting CAPEX cost benefits of selecting OpenRAN hardware are significant as it is reducing dedicated CAPEX hardware costs.

As we move toward the introduction of 5G, the industry is now beginning to realize that the economics of building the RAN need to change. 2019 saw significant moves toward OpenRAN, a new model of building radio networks, based on a software-centric and open infrastructure. The benefits of OpenRAN were illustrated by Vodafone’s announcement that it would be opening its entire RAN in Europe to OpenRAN vendors during the TIP Summit in November 2019. Both the O-RAN Alliance and the Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP) are leading the industry towards OpenRAN, with the O-RAN alliance driving industry standards and TIP driving deployments. The US government is introducing bills to encourage the use of OpenRAN technologies in the US networks as well.

The objective of OpenRAN is to use GPP-based components to create a fully programmable and open RAN infrastructure. This is achieved by disaggregating hardware and software in the network. This helps networks support open interfaces, common development standards and COTS hardware, to deliver multi-vendor, interoperable networks. This gives operators the flexibility to cost-effectively deploy and upgrade their networks, reduce complexity, and deliver coverage at a much lower cost.

Analysts’ projections from ReTHINK show the costs of building 5G macro-cell networks will fall by 50% if deployments incorporate open architectures. This saving equates to hundreds of millions of dollars in the overall total cost of ownership and will help mobile operators extend investments and become more profitable.

In 2020, the momentum behind OpenRAN will continue to grow as other operators realize how they can reduce costs, drive more competition between technology vendors, and stimulate higher levels of innovation in the industry.

The ability to support 4G and 5G connectivity under the same OpenRAN software umbrella and upgradability of the OpenRAN radios from 4G to 5G with just a remote upgrade are crucial capabilities to provide reliable connectivity for all and allowing the transformative benefits of 5G to be realized. The industry is hungry for change, and open-minded operators are the ones who will succeed.

By putting software at the heart of the network, operators can start introducing best-in-class vendor technology that can help reduce the cost of using traditional vendors. They can deliver high quality end-user experiences and introduce new networks to support all uses cases while enjoying decreasing costs by leveraging multiple vendors.

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