DT and Ericsson recently demonstrated an impressive proof of concept implementation: they established connectivity with guaranteed quality of service (QoS) between Germany and Poland via 5G end-to-end network slicing. With an SD-WAN solution from Deutsche Telekom, the data connection can be flexibly controlled and managed via a customer portal. The solution ensures that different service parameters in the network can be operated across country borders. At the same time, network resources are flexibly allocated. This approach is being presented for the first time worldwide. It is particularly advantageous for global companies that operate latency-critical applications at different, international locations.
End-to-end network slicing, which requires a 5G SA core network, is a key enabler for unlocking 5G opportunities. It’s been highly touted to drive business model innovation and new use cases across various industry segments. 5G slicing will enable use cases that require specific resources and QoS levels. Globally operating enterprise are more and more seeing the need for uniform connectivity characteristics to serve their applications in different markets. Some of the latency-critical business applications that demand consistent international connectivity performance are related to broadcasting, logistics, and automotive telematics.
In this trial, the QoS connectivity was extended from Germany to Poland using a 5G slicing setup that is based on commercial grade Ericsson 5G Standalone (SA) radio and core network infrastructure and a Deutsche Telekom commercial SD-WAN solution. The home operator-controlled User Plane Function (UPF) is placed in Poland as the visited country and the entire setup is managed by an Ericsson orchestrator integrated with a Deutsche Telekom business support system via open TM Forum APIs. Combining 5G slicing and SD-WAN technology allows flexible connectivity establishment and control, while traffic breakout close to the application server in visited countries enables low latency.
According to Light Reading, Deutsche Telekom (DT) has already issued a request for quotation (RFQ) to Open RAN vendors and is currently selecting partners for a commercial rollout next year. NEC – a Japanese vendor of radio units (among other things)- and Mavenir -a U.S. developer of baseband software-were mentioned as Open RAN Town participants (and likely DT RFQ respondents). “It is a multivendor setup,” said DT’s Claudia Nemat.
However, there are obstacles that Open RAN must overcome to be widely deployed. In particular, energy efficiency. Deutsche Telekom, along with most other big operators, is determined to reduce its carbon footprint and slash energy bills. Open RAN “is less energy efficient than today’s RAN technology,” Ms. Nemat said. The use of x86 general-purpose microprocessors in virtualized, open RAN deployments seems to be responsible for this inefficiency.
“If you have an ASIC [application-specific integrated circuit] for baseband processing, it is always cheaper than using a general-purpose microprocessor like an Intel processor,” said Alex Choi, Deutsche Telekom’s head of strategy and technology innovation, two years ago.
One option is to use ASICs and other chips as hardware accelerators for more efficient baseband processing. Companies including Marvell, Nvidia and Qualcomm all have products in development for sale as merchant silicon in open RAN deployments. Nemat, noted a breakthroughs with Intel.
“We achieved a reduction of electricity consumption of around minus 30%. For us, that is a big step forward for commercial deployment.”
Light Reading’s Iain Morris, provided this assessment:
Even so, a commercial open RAN deployment involving companies like NEC and Mavenir is hard to imagine. Any widespread rollout of their technologies would mean swapping out equipment recently supplied by Ericsson or Huawei (DT’s current 5G network equipment vendors), unless Deutsche Telekom plans to run two parallel networks. Either option would be costly.
Far likelier is that a 2023 deployment will be very limited. Other operators including the UK’s BT and France’s Orange have talked about using open RAN initially for small cells – designed to provide a coverage boost in specific locations.
A private network for a factory is one possible example. Outside Germany, of course, there may be a bigger short-term opportunity in Deutsche Telekom markets where 5G has not been as widely deployed.
In late June 2021, Deutsche Telekom switched on its ‘O-RAN Town’ deployment in Neubrandenburg, Germany. O-RAN Town is a multi-vendor open RAN network that will deliver open RAN based 4G and 5G services across up to 25 sites. The first sites are now deployed and integrated into the live network of Telekom Germany. This includes Europe’s first integration of massive MIMO (mMIMO) radio units using O-RAN open fronthaul interfaces to connect to the virtualized RAN software.
Ms. Nemat said at the time, “Open RAN is about increasing flexibility, choice and reinvigorating our industry to bring in innovation for the benefit our customers. Switching on our O-RAN Town including massive MIMO is a pivotal moment on our journey to drive the development of open RAN as a competitive solution for macro deployment at scale. This is just the start. We will expand O-RAN Town over time with a diverse set of supplier partners to further develop our operational experience of high-performance multi-vendor open RAN.”
In November 2021, Deutsche Telekom announced it was taking the lead in a new Open lab to accelerate network disaggregation and Open RAN. The German Federal Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) is financing the Lab with 17 million Euros and that’s to be matched by approximately a 17 million Euro investment from a consortium under the leadership of Deutsche Telekom (DT).
The lab will furthermore be supported by and working closely with OCP (Open Compute Project), ONF (Open Networking Foundation), ONAP (Open Network Automation Platform), the O-RAN Alliance and the TIP (Telecom Infra Project). Partners and supporters together form the user forum, which is open for participation by other interested companies, especially SMEs, working on applications as well as equipment and development. As an open lab it is built for collaboration within the wider telecommunications community. The i14y Lab Berlin will be the central location and core node of satellite locations such as Düsseldorf and Munich. Other highlights:
- Testing and integrating components of disaggregated networks in the lab to accelerate time to market of open network technology for the multi-vendor network of the future.
- The lab has already started operations at DT Innovation Campus Winterfeldtstraße
- Important foundation for building a European and German ecosystem of vendors and system integrators
A recent Research Nester report predicts a market size of $21 billion for O-RAN in 2028.