The goal of vRAN and Open RAN is the disaggregation of radio access network hardware and software, to help operators improve flexibility, reduce costs and meet growing demand.
The Radio Access Network (RAN) is expensive proprietary equipment that connects to cellular antennas, processes the signal, and sends it to the core network. Communication Service Providers (CSPs) who need to remain nimble to meet the growing demands of businesses and customers find RANs a bottleneck and look to vRANs and Open RANs to help them.
Network Function Virtualization (NFV) speeds up the iteration of new services, reduces operating costs, and increases network capacity. NFV and containerization of network functions are also essential to the 5G roadmap. Virtual Radio Access Networks (vRANs) and Open RANs are linked and intertwined efforts to disregard the operation of the radio network into software functions. We use the terms interchangeably, but there are key differences to be aware of. Add the same O-RAN, and that’s a recipe for confusion. Let’s break it down.
A virtualized radio access network (vRAN) is one of the results of efforts to virtualize network functions. A vRAN allows the operator to perform the baseband functions of their RAN as software. With vRANs, operators can migrate custom baseband units (BBUs) to off-the-shelf software servers running on off-the-shelf commercial server hardware (COTS). Remote Radio Unit (RRU) network with virtualized baseband units (vBBUs) in the cloud.
RAN virtualization increases flexibility in the integration of hardware, software, and systems, and adopts the same agile principles that drive innovation in cloud services. Operators can make changes such as security enhancements only through software, adopting agile cloud deployment principles to constantly improve and iterate.
Open the RAN
A vRAN replaces BBUs with off-the-shelf commercial hardware (COTS), but RAN still relies on proprietary interfaces and hardware specifically designed for radio transmissions. Open RAN is an effort to fully open RAN.
“Current RAN technology is delivered as an integrated hardware and software platform. The ambition of Open RAN is to create a multi-vendor RAN solution that enables separation – or disaggregation – between hardware and software with open interfaces and virtualization, hosting software that controls and maintains networks. in the cloud. The promised benefits include supply chain diversity, flexible solutions and new capabilities leading to increased competition and more innovation, ”said Ericsson.
Open RAN seeks to disaggregate RAN hardware and software on vendor independent platforms and opens interface protocols between the functions of the Radio Unit (RU), Distributed Unit (DU), and centralized unit (CU) in the RAN. Operators can choose from different virtualized or divided RAN architectures based on service requirements, resources, capacity and other factors.
ORAN or O-RAN
The Open RAN Alliance is a group of more than 200 suppliers and dozens of operators. The group’s stated objective is to move the industry towards an “open, intelligent, virtualized and fully interoperable RAN”.
The group regularly publishes new RAN specifications, provides test and implementation schematics, software and other efforts to support their work.
The Open RAN Alliance grabbed the headlines due to the potential threat from some member groups to US national security. This led Nokia to briefly suspend its involvement in the O-RAN Alliance, although it resumed technical work shortly after.
The O-RAN alliance has approved Telecom Italia’s Open Test and Integration Center (OTIC) in Turin, Italy. TIM said the facility is testing new solutions and accelerating the deployment of Open RAN for the new pan-European mobile network architecture based on 5G, Cloud and Edge Computing.
The founder of the O-RAN Alliance and Japanese telecommunications company NTT DoCoMo is working with a consortium of Japanese companies to develop a “5G open RAN ecosystem” to package the best RAN technology and to introduce, operate and manage them depending on the requests of operators planning to Open the RAN introduction.