The ability to drive automation within the operator’s network makes SMO immediately attractive to any mobile operator who wishes to increase automation to reduce operating costs and ultimately improve profitability.
However, the fundamental problem with SMO is that it is designed to automate Open RAN networks which only represent one to two percent of networks deployed today..
To put that in context, it’s like inventing a perpetual motion machine to replace the internal combustion engine and then, in fine print, explaining that it only works in Porches or Ferraris. Good news in principle, but not really useful for 98% of motorists.
The key question is therefore: “Is there a way to make the SMO concept applicable to 100% of radio access networks deployed in the world?”
Fortunately, we believe there is an answer – a simple answer – to this ultimate question. And that answer is to extend that to deal with the existing, purpose-built RAN.
But where are we now?
Open RAN is an exciting and disruptive development in our industry, but the technology is still in its infancy. We are seeing some new entrants, looking to roll out new 100% open RAN networks. We also see many communications service providers (CSPs) testing the technology, often in remote rural areas or in controlled environments such as college or business campuses.
The industry analyst firm, Gartner, has developed an interesting model to examine the introduction of new technologies called the “Gartner Hype Cycle”. The hype cycle describes a number of stages between the “innovation trigger,” where new technology is designed, and the “productivity plateau,” where the technology is widely adopted and begins to deliver results. It is difficult to estimate where Open RAN stands in the cycle, but media coverage and widespread speculation gives the impression that Open RAN is only surpassing the “peak of exaggerated expectations”: in essence, it is still at. a relatively early stage.
Open RAN and the O-RAN Alliance architecture
Let’s take a quick look at the O-RAN Alliance. The O-RAN Alliance is a service provider-led consortium of over 300 companies working on the Open RAN concept. They defined an Open RAN architecture which, as the name suggests, is based on openness.
The Open RAN architecture defines, or is in the process of defining, a number of open interfaces imaginatively named interfaces O1, O2, A1, and R1. These interfaces are not yet standardized in the same way as, for example, 3GPP Release 17 is standardized, but there are strong aspirations for openness and standardization within the O-RAN Alliance.
Ericsson is a major contributor to the O-RAN Alliance Service Management and Orchestration Working Groups, and we have a number of ideas on how the SMO concept should be implemented.
Extend SMO to support multi-technology
At the start of this blog, I made the analogy that O-RAN Alliance SMO is a bit like building a perpetual motion engine to replace the internal combustion engine, but only works with a single brand of high performance car. Brilliant, innovative, but not really useful for 98% of motorists.
But what if you could take the SMO concept and extend the automation capabilities SMO brings – the non-real-time RAN (non-RT-RIC) intelligent controllers and their automation rApps – into the realm of automation. ‘existing, objective – RAN networks built? Indeed, build a perpetual motion motor for every motorist.
At Ericsson, we believe it is very possible. To achieve this, we will start with the existing Centralized Self-Optimized Networks (C-SON) and Network Design and Optimization (NDO) applications already deployed in the networks. Today, these applications are often deployed on tightly integrated application platforms to perform specific automation operations. The SMO architecture effectively allows you to recreate these applications as RAN automation applications or rApps, as well as standardize the underlying application environment: the non-RT-RIC SMO, which uses an R1 interface that allows interoperability between platforms and providers.
“This report… analyzes the evolution of C-SON modules and use cases that become RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) applications required in Open RAN, Open Virtual RAN, and Software Defined RAN (SD-RAN) architectures. ) ”
– Stéphane Téral, chief analyst
A recent report from analyst firm Light Counting highlights the hope that existing C-SON applications will become applications in the RAN intelligent controller (RIC).
The ability to run rApps to optimize both open RAN and existing specially designed 4G and 5G networks runs deep. If this can be achieved, one of the biggest hurdles to SMO adoption will be overcome: scalability.
Obviously, it’s hard to justify investing in an automation platform for a small percentage of your current network. That is why we are extending the scope of SMO to cover open RAN and specially designed RAN. – this translates into an investment covering the entire network, with the benefits of automation being applied to the entire network. At Ericsson, we call this approach multi-technologies: the ability to automate and orchestrate open RAN and specially designed RAN.
Avoid SMO silos
Another major barrier to adoption is managing the RAN of multiple vendors. For Open RAN networks, open interfaces A1 and O1 allow a common approach to handling new Open RAN technologies, but the challenge is to manage 4G and 5G RAN networks specially designed by multiple vendors.
These networks have a vendor-specific equipment management system, or EMS, such as Ericsson Network Manager (ENM) from Ericsson or NetAct from Nokia. There have been successful approaches, such as the Operational Support Systems Interworking Initiative (OSSii) to encourage interworking between equipment vendors, but not all vendors actively participate. However, what OSSii proves is that there are ways to manage multiple EMS and RAN providers.
The reason this is important is that without effective interworking into existing specially designed RANs, there will be a tendency to deploy vendor specific SMOs. Having an SMO per equipment supplier is counterintuitive and would seem to add complexity rather than reduce it.
Our belief is that an operator network should have a single SMO: deployed on premise, in the cloud or as a service (aaS), depending on the wishes of the service provider. This single SMO will manage new Open RAN technologies via open A1 and O1 interfaces and specially designed networks from multiple vendors via their own proprietary interfaces.
This approach provides a single operational overview of the network, reducing complexity and ultimately operating costs.
At Ericsson, we call this approach several suppliers.
Recommendations to accelerate the adoption of SMOs
In Ericsson’s new SMO white paper, A Smart Platform: Using O-RAN’s SMO as a Catalyst for Openness and Innovation in RAN, We present five recommendations to accelerate SMO adoption and shorten the hype cycle:
- Deploy in complex RAN environments: We recommend deploying SMO in complex multi-vendor and multi-technology networks where the automation platform can create the greatest operational impact.
- Target addressable domains with high operational costs: Network deployment and network operation are two of the largest addressable areas of OPEX, we recommend that these areas be the first targets for new automation rApps and xApps.
- THEall proven use cases: proven capabilities can be leveraged and deployed at scale by using existing SON and centralized network design and optimization applications and using them to build new automation applications that run on a platform -common shape.
- Using the best in class Applications: Use automation applications from a wide variety of developers, including network equipment vendors, communications service providers, and third-party specialists. Be prepared to test similar apps and select those that best use the tools that accelerate open innovation, such as software development toolkits, partner development ecosystems, and even marketplaces to maximize choice.
- Deploy on multi-technology networks: SMO provides maximum return on investment (ROI) when it enables 100% network automation. Having high levels of automation in an open RAN network is one way to ensure that new technology is future-proof. However, adding high levels of automation to the existing specially designed RAN that today constitutes over 98% of CSP networks is also highly desirable.