NTT DoCoMo achieves multi-vendor 4G/5G RAN using O-RAN specifications

NTT DoCoMo has announced that it has  achieved multi-vendor interoperability across a variety of 4G and pre-standard 5G base station equipment from Fujitsu, NEC and Nokia.   Equipment from those vendors supports the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Alliance specifications, which are NOT standards as claimed in DoCoMo’s press release.  This is believed to be the world’s first realization of this level of multi-vendor interoperability in 4G and 5G base station equipment conforming to O-RAN specifications.

Up until now, cellular telcos (cellcos) have been locked into single cellular base station vendor contracts when deploying their radio access networks (RANs). Despite ITU-R standardization and 3GPP specifications, operators have not been able to use one vendor’s baseband gear with another’s radio equipment. Working across different 4G and 5G vendor systems has been similarly problematic if not impossible. Critics say this interoperability dilemma has led to “vendor lock-in” and strengthened a small number of giant RAN vendors, namely Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia.

The Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Alliance wants to change that.  It is an operator led industry group working to create more open and intelligent next generation radio access networks, including 5G networks. The O-RAN specifications include RAN fronthaul and X2 profiles. There are 21 network operator members shown on the O-RAN Alliance member list, which includes NTT DoCoMo, AT&T, Verizon, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, China Mobile, China Telecom and other tier 1 operators.

RAN fronthaul describes the connectivity between remote base stations and centralized  cell units, enabling multiple remote units to be serviced by a single central baseband unit using open hardware specs. Ultimately,  radio heads and baseband units may be mixed and matched to create a fully multi-vendor RAN.

The ability to deploy and interconnect base station equipment from different vendors will make it possible to select the equipment most suitable for deployment in any given environment, such as base stations offering broad coverage in rural areas or small base stations that can be deployed in urban areas where space is limited. This will in turn allow more rapid and flexible expansion of 5G coverage.

DoCoMo will deploy the equipment in the pre-commercial 5G service it plans to launch on September 20, 2019 in Japan.  Concurrent with the pre-commercial launch of its 5G services, DoCoMo will expand 5G coverage by combining 5G networks with existing 4G networks using equipment from diverse vendors. The signal transmission specifications that will enable this follows lengthy discussions within the O-RAN Alliance, which DoCoMo is chairing.

4G and 5G multi-vendor interoperability:

Image of 4G and 5G multi-vendor interoperability

O-RAN fronthaul interface specifications provide a foundation for interoperability between centralized units and remote units of 5G remote-installed base stations manufactured by diverse partners. With remote-installed base stations, centralization of the baseband processing will bring the following benefits:

  • Improved communication quality through coordination of multiple remote units
  • Pooling of resources through the aggregation of hardware
  • Minimization of equipment footprint, leading to a reduction in space and costs.

In addition, through the provision of only radio processing, the remote unit can be further downsized, making it possible to install in a variety of locations that would previously have not been viable, such as small buildings or mountainous areas.

The O-RAN X2 profile specifications provide a foundation for interoperability between 4G base stations and 5G base stations manufactured by diverse partners in 5G non-standalone (5G NSA) networks by taking 3GPP X2 interface specifications and specifying details for their usage. 3GPP Release 15 based 5G NR-NSA networks connect devices using both 4G and 5G technologies. The connection of 4G and 5G base stations makes it possible to combine the high-speed, low-latency data communications delivered by 5G technology with the comprehensive coverage of 4G networks.

Going forward, DoCoMo will continue to refine and develop its cutting-edge base station communication technology, aiming to expand the provision of stable 5G coverage.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Open Test and Integration Center (OTIC):

O-RAN has announced the Open Test and Integration Center (OTIC) – an initiative led by China Mobile and Reliance Jio along with participation from China Telecom, China Unicom, Intel, Radisys, Airspan, Baicells, CertusNet, Mavenir, Lenovo, Ruijie Network, Inspur, Samsung Electronics, Sylincom, WindRiver, ArrayComm, and Chengdu NTS.

The above named companies are collaborating on multi-vendor interoperability and validation activities for O-RAN compliant 5G access infrastructure. The initial focus is to ensure RAN components from multiple vendors support standard and open interfaces and can interoperate in accordance with O-RAN test specifications.

“China Mobile will initiate an OTIC in Beijing, China, which should provide the common platform for solutions to be operationally ready to enable end-to-end interoperability and deployment in scale; as well as to be hardened for reliability, performance, scalability, and security that operator networks require,” said Dr. Li Zhengmao, EVP of China Mobile.

“Jio is creating an OTIC to accelerate the telecom industry transformation by driving ready-for-commercialisation products and solutions,” said Mathew Oommen, President, Reliance Jio.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Heavy Reading Comments:

“It is pretty significant for O-RAN because DoCoMo is a genuinely leading operator, a rainmaker in these things,” says Gabriel Brown, a principal analyst with Heavy Reading. “They have said this will conform with O-RAN specifications in what looks like the production 4G and 5G network.”

“One of the criticisms of the 5G RAN was about using the same 4G vendor, but the implication here is that you could do multivendor,” said Brown, pointing to NTT DoCoMo’s statements about the O-RAN Alliance’s X2 specifications. “What they don’t appear to be saying is that they have different baseband vendors for 4G and 5G, but they are saying they can do it. There is no question at all this is a big statement about O-RAN.”

NTT DoCoMo’s update is not a complete surprise, he says, because the operator had already been in trials with Fujitsu, NEC and Nokia. Today’s move aligns that model with the O-RAN specifications at an important moment. “Whatever they are doing has to be rock solid because the Rugby World Cup is coming in a couple of weeks,” says Brown. “That is a warm-up for the 2020 Olympics in terms of international attention on Japanese networks and all operators will be launching a limited 5G service.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Telco Testimonials and Deployment Plans for O-RAN:

“ The O-RAN Alliance was created to accelerate the delivery of products that support a common, open architecture and standardized interfaces that we, as operators, view as the foundation of our next-generation wireless infrastructure, while ensuring a broad community of suppliers driven by innovation and open market competition. ” — Alex Jinsung Choi, SVP Research and Technology Innovation, Deutsche Telekom “ Our industry is approaching an inflection point, where increasing infrastructure virtualization will combine with embedded intelligence to deliver more agile services and advanced capabilities to our customers. The O-RAN Alliance is at the forefront of defining the next generation RAN architecture for this transformation. ” — Andre Fuetsch, CTO and President AT&T Labs.

AT&T is a key proponent of O-RAN adoption.  An AT&T employee, who presented on O-RAN at ONF Connect 2019, said the company is seriously evaluating adopting the Alliance’s specifications for 5G deployments sometime in 2020.  AT&T has said that it foresees that it can bring the “whitebox” environment to the RAN by adopting open hardware specifications.

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

References:

https://www.nttdocomo.co.jp/english/info/media_center/pr/2019/0918_00.html

https://www.o-ran.org/membership

https://www.o-ran.org/specifications

https://www.lightreading.com/mobile/5g/japans-ntt-docomo-goes-for-gold-wth-multivendor-5g-plans/d/d-id/754206

http://the-mobile-network.com/2019/09/o-ran-scores-twice-as-ntt-docomo-reveals-commercial-multi-vendor-deployment/

http://the-mobile-network.com/2019/03/taking-the-open-ran-commercial/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*

 
 

 

Recent Posts