Juniper to integrate RAN Intelligent Controller with Intel’s FlexRAN platform for Open RAN
Juniper Networks today announced plans to integrate its radio access network (RAN) intelligent controller (RIC) with Intel’s FlexRAN platform for Open RAN development.
This joint initiative between two companies is part of Juniper’s continuing efforts to bring openness and innovation to a traditionally closed-off part of the network, providing a faster route-to-market for service providers and enterprises to deliver 5G, edge computing and AI. Juniper views open RAN as an opportunistic endeavor and claims it’s currently testing the RIC integration in labs and trials with some tier-one operators. Juniper’s RIC takes direction from the O-RAN Alliance and adheres to open interfaces and APIs, but the specialized features it adds on top are proprietary.
Juniper has made major investments to lead the shift to Open RAN, beginning with the exclusive IP licensing agreement with Netsia (a subsidiary of Turk Telekom Group), and continuing with significant involvement in the O-RAN Alliance. Juniper is heavily engaged in expanding integrations with key partners and is part of the innovation team building joint customer solutions in Intel’s 5G Lab.
Spending on Radio Access Networks (RAN) is a significant amount of service providers’ CapEx, primarily due to limited vendor choice and closed architectures which lead to lock-in. Juniper recognizes that the RAN is a domain that demands openness and best-of-breed innovation to ensure the best experience for network operators and their customers, and is determined to lead the industry toward that vision.
Juniper’s collaboration with Intel includes the following:
- Juniper RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) and Intel FlexRAN platform are pre-integrated and pre-validated to enhance usability of a full ORAN-compliant Intelligent RAN system
- Collaborative R&D work with Intel Labs for RIC platform-specific apps to improve customer experience, maximize ROI and drive rapid ORAN ecosystem innovation
- Joint customer testbeds with Intel to validate performance-improving implementation and speed of time-to-market
Juniper is an active member of the O-RAN Alliance, contributing to six working groups and serving as chair and co-chair of the slicing and use-case task groups, respectively. Juniper is also an editor of RIC specifications within the alliance.
“Juniper has always been committed to open infrastructures, which is why we are excited to support the work that Intel has undertaken with their FlexRAN ecosystem. By collaborating with Intel, we are able to deliver cloud-native routing, automation, intelligence and assurance solutions and services that are optimized for our customers’ needs, speeding time-to-market and enabling them to monetize faster.”
– Constantine Polychronopoulos, VP of 5G and Telco Cloud at Juniper Networks
“RIC is like the brain for open RAN, and we also call it essentially the operating system of the RAN,” said Jai Thattil, director of strategic technology marketing at Juniper Networks. Juniper intends to differentiate its RIC from others by pre-integrating and validating the technology so operators can adopt it as part of a more comprehensive offering combined with other services. “Juniper is kind of in a unique position, compared to a lot of other vendors” because of its experience in 5G transport, network cores, service management and orchestration, according to Thattil.
“The virtualization of the RAN continues to gain momentum across the industry as operators take advantage of cloud economics and the delivery of new services. This collaboration with Juniper and the validation of FlexRAN and RIC solutions will assist service providers to overcome integration challenges and accelerate time-to-market for future deployments.”
– Caroline Chan, VP Intel Corporation, GM of Network Business Incubator Division
O-RAN Alliance Threatened:
The O-RAN Alliance is in a crisis because of U.S. sanctions against Chinese vendors in the group has troubled Nokia and Ericsson. In particular, the recent addition to the American “entity list” of three Chinese members of the Alliance. Kindroid, a semiconductor company, Phytium, a supercomputing company, and Inspur, a compute server vendor, have been accused of working with the Chinese military, and have joined 260 other Chinese companies, including, Huawei, on the entity list.
A few days after Nokia decided to suspend its technical activity with the O-RAN Alliance, in fear of American punishment over its engagement at the forum with companies recently put on the American “entity list,” Ericsson expressed similar concerns.
It should not be a surprise that, given O-RAN Alliance’s legacy (born out of a merger of the American-led xRAN Forum and the Chinese-led C-RAN Alliance), there are a strong Chinese contingency. According to Strand Consult, by the end of 2020, 44 of the 200 odd Alliance members are companies from China. Also of concern is this post by Mr. Strand, What NTIA won’t tell the FCC about OpenRAN.
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“Nokia’s commitment to open radio access networks (RAN) and the O-RAN Alliance, of which we were the first major vendor to join, remains strong. At this stage we are simply pausing technical activity with the alliance as some participants have been added to the U.S. Entity List and it is prudent for us to allow the alliance time to analyze and come to a resolution,” a Nokia spokesperson said in a statement.
Separating Chinese-government owned companies from the O-RAN Alliance is unlikely. The group was formed in 2018 when the C-RAN Alliance, a Chinese group, merged with the xRAN Forum, a group founded by AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, and SK Telecom.
“To address Nokia’s concern, we reasonably expect that the White House will clarify things and issue licenses to allow companies to sit on the same key industry groups as Huawei in the O-RAN Alliance, just like it has done in the past for the operators’ association GSMA, standard-setting bodies like IEEE, ETSI, and ISO and U.N. telecoms group ITU, without being in violation of the entity list rules,” Eugina Jordan, VP of marketing at Parallel Wireless, said in a statement.
The very recent assessment of the O-RAN Alliance by the European Commission (EC) is that it does not obviously meet WTO transparency requirements because it does not make essential information “easily accessible to all interested parties.” The group’s procedures, moreover, are “not open in a non-discriminatory manner during all stages of the standard-setting process.”
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the group is the veto it effectively gives to founding members. In the paper it published just last month, the EC notes that “although interested contributors have opportunities to contribute to the elaboration of the specifications, the founding members have a privilege, because they have the necessary minority of more than 25% to block proposals.”
These founding members, according to the O-RAN Alliance’s own website, comprise AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DoCoMo and Orange. Their identities should not influence any WTO judgement, but the inclusion of China Mobile in that inner sanctum may horrify some US politicians. In June, the White House imposed financial sanctions on China Mobile as part of the “military-industrial complex of the People’s Republic of China.”
In its recent paper, the EC stops short of delivering a final verdict on the O-RAN Alliance, instead calling for an “independent assessment” of its status. But to ensure it is compliant with US law, the group may have to become more transparent and make changes to its modus operandi. That will probably not be easy. Removing the veto held by founding members, in particular, could meet resistance. And transparency has not come naturally so far. Journalistic enquiries are left to moulder for days without being answered. At the time of writing, it had not responded to questions on this topic sent on September 1.
But if the O-RAN Alliance is opaque, successive US governments have already shown they are not afraid of inconsistency. ZTE was taken off the trade blacklist in 2018 after paying multi-billion-dollar fines, replacing managers and agreeing to be supervised by US regulators. Yet its links to the Chinese government are far more obvious than Huawei’s. If Huawei and far smaller Chinese companies are a security threat, then why isn’t ZTE?
“The Nokia announcement is part of an effort to make open RAN a political issue,” Monica Paolini, principal analyst at Senza Fili, told SDxCentral. “Open RAN is not a Chinese, U.S., Western Europe technology. This is something that has been growing with the contribution of multiple countries, different viewpoints, and the result is a new model for the RAN that is open, that is very flexible, that allows operators to do different things.”
The O-RAN Alliance is one of the most powerful multinational organizations developing technical specifications for open RAN, but it’s not the center of power. Some operators and vendors are pushing ahead on open RAN irrespective of the status of activities at the O-RAN Alliance.
Frontrunners like Rakuten Mobile, Dish Network, Telefónica, and others “are not waiting for the O-RAN Alliance to plan and build their open RAN networks,” Light Counting’s Stephane Téral said.
“I believe this event reflects some friction within the alliance. Let’s not forget that every member company has its own agenda, and in the end the open RAN market is finite and cutting into the oligopolistic traditional RAN market,” he added.
This combination of virtualization (NFV and containers) and SDN is necessary to enable configuration, optimization and control of the RAN infrastructure at the edge before any aggregation points. This is how the RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) for Open RAN was born – to enable eNB/gNB functionalities as X-Apps on northbound interfaces.
The combination of virtualization (NFV and containers) and SDN is necessary to enable configuration, optimization and control of the RAN infrastructure at the edge before any aggregation points. This is how the RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) for Open RAN was born – to enable eNB/gNB functionalities as X-Apps on northbound interfaces.
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