Strand Consult: Open RAN hype vs reality leaves many questions unanswered

by John Strand, CEO of Strand Consult with Alan J Weissberger

A recent Dell’Oro Group report suggests that “total Open RAN revenues, including O-RAN and OpenRAN radio and baseband, surprised on the upside both in 2020 and during 2021, bolstering the thesis that Open RAN is here to stay and the architecture will play an important role before 6G.”

The Dell’Oro Group report author Stefan Pongratz added, “So, given where we are today, we can safely conclude that the movement has come much further than expected both from a commitment perspective and from a commercialization perspective.”

I respectfully disagree.  The OpenRAN story is not driven by commercial demand for equipment. Instead, it is driven by people who make a living from hype.  There is probably more money being made in generating hype about OpenRAN than in the actual purchase of OpenRAN equipment.

While there’s a lot of talk about OpenRAN, it’s still a technology that operators are testing – not deploying.

The hype cycle likely explains the Dell’Oro Group’s recent report that the OpenRAN market will increase. However, for all their unique expertise, Dell’Oro has not committed to publishing how many sites will use OpenRAN in the future (% of installed base) and other vital specifics like what proportion of the mobile companies’ traffic and revenue will go through OpenRAN sites and how much shareholders may gain by operators switching to OpenRAN.

Over 200 5G networks have gone live globally. All of these use 3GPP release 15 and 16 compliant  network equipment. None use OpenRAN gear.

Note that neither 3GPP release 15 or 16 5G RAN specs or ITU-R 5G standard (ITU-R M.2150) include any reference to OpenRAN specifications (from either the O-RAN Alliance or TIP OpenRAN project).  In fact, the 3GPP website calls out the conundrum of multiple OpenRAN-like specifications:

Open RAN is made possible through standardized (???)open network interfaces, defined in 3GPP, O-RAN Alliance, IEEE (???), and other SDOs (???) and industry fora (e.g. TIP Open RAN project). To cater to all the diverse 5G use cases and operator’s deployment constraints, the standards define multiple NG-RAN architecture options and the associated open network interfaces. While these options are crucial in making 5G suitable to address all the requirements and challenges of the next generation mobile network, figuring out which option fits a particular practical use case is sometimes challenging. This is further exacerbated by the fact that relevant standards are scattered across multiple SDOs.

Rakuten is the only deployed, purpose-built OpenRAN network (4G now, 5G later), and it uses proprietary network equipment, which is not interoperable with any other 4G/5G network.  The much advertised 4G/5G OpenRAN Dish Network continues to be delayed with a launch date of sometime in 2022.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories about OpenRAN, but they don’t focus on these key questions: 

  1. How much do telecom stakeholders gain by you switching from classic 3GPP RAN to OpenRAN? At what point does it make sense to shift? In other words, how much do operators save and how does that translate to the bottom line? Strand Consult’s research shows that the operators’ RAN costs make up about 3% of ARPU. In practice, even the most optimistic savings from OpenRAN will not meaningfully affect the mobile operator’s earnings.
  1. If OpenRAN products win market share of 15% in 2026, what share of that installed base will be OpenRAN in 2025 and 2030? Strand Consult believes that OpenRAN will struggle with market share, barely reach 3% of the installed 5G sites by 2030. 
  1. How will mobile subscribers experience the shift towards OpenRAN? Will they gain access to more features on their smartphones as a result? If OpenRAN achieves 3% market share of mobile sites, what incentives are there for application developers to build for OpenRAN? Imagine that voice and SMS were services that were available on only 3% of an operators’ mobile sites.

There is a need for greater transparency in the OpenRAN market, including testing, operator trials, units sold etc. While it is one thing for an operator to conduct  OpenRAN trials and tests, it is quite another for the operator to purchase the equipment. To fuel the hype, some stories have suggested that a trial of OpenRAN equipment was a purchase.

OpenRAN benefits, however good they sound now, remain to be seen. We have yet to see any actual benefits created from the mix and match of OpenRAN modules/components.  Moreover, we have yet to see how easy it will be to replace one OpenRAN vendor with another in a large scale commercial 4G/5G network.

For 25 years, Strand Consult has been the opposite of hype. We make our living being critical of pie in the sky scenarios. Our clients are executives and boards members of mobile operators who want credible and critical knowledge.

Strand Consult’s report Debunking 25 Myths of OpenRAN, analyzes the 25 myths that OpenRAN hype machine loves to cultivate.  Close to one thousand people have requested that new report. Outside of three emails noting minor typos in our report, Strand Consult has yet to receive feedback to dispute the report’s analyses and conclusions.

John Strand founded Strand Consult in 1995. Since then, hundreds of companies in the telecom, media and technology industries have attended Strand Consult’s workshops, purchased reports, consulted with the company to develop strategy, launch new products, and conduct a dialogue with policymakers.

John Strand sits on the advisory board of a number of Scandinavian and International companies and is a member of the Arctic Economic Council Telecommunications Working Group. He served on the Advisory Board for the 3GSM World Congress, the event known as the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

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References:

Dell’Oro Group, Kenneth Research and Heavy Reading’s optimistic forecasts for Open RAN

Debunking 25 Myths of OpenRAN

https://www.lightreading.com/open-ran/open-ran-moving-faster-than-expected—-delloro/d/d-id/774780?

https://www.3gpp.org/news-events/2150-open_ran

O-RAN Alliance tries to allay concerns; Strand Consult disagrees!

Strand Consult: What NTIA won’t tell the FCC about Open RAN

44 Chinese companies have joined the O-RAN Alliance

Strand Consult: 5G in 2019 and 2020 telecom predictions

 

 

Dell’Oro Group, Kenneth Research and Heavy Reading’s optimistic forecasts for Open RAN

Dell’Oro Group recently published the January 2022 edition of its Open RAN report.  Preliminary findings suggest that total Open RAN revenues, including O-RAN and OpenRAN radio and baseband, surprised on the upside both in 2020 and during 2021, bolstering the thesis that Open RAN is here to stay and the architecture will play an important role before 6G (this author disagrees).

Open RAN revenues are expected to account for around 15 percent of the overall 2G-5G RAN market by 2026 (see chart below), reflecting healthy traction in multiple regions with both basic and advanced radios.
“The Open RAN movement has come a long way in just a few years, surprising both proponents and skeptics,” said Stefan Pongratz, Vice President and analyst with the Dell’Oro Group. “While challenging comparisons will weigh a bit on the market over the short-term, it is unlikely that these divergences between the greenfields and the brownfields will leave lasting imprints on the long-term prospects,”  Pongratz added.
Additional highlights from the Dell’Oro Open RAN Advanced Research Report:
  • The Asia Pacific region is dominating the Open RAN market in this initial phase and is expected to play a leading role throughout the forecast period, accounting for more than 40 percent of total 2021-2026 revenues.
  • Risks around the Open RAN projections remain broadly balanced, though it is worth noting that risks to the downside have increased slightly since the last forecast update.
  • The shift towards Virtualized RAN (vRAN) is progressing at a slightly slower pace than Open RAN. Still, total vRAN projections remain mostly unchanged, with vRAN on track to account for 5 percent to 10 percent of the RAN market by 2026.
The Dell’Oro Group Open RAN Advanced Research Report offers an overview of the Open RAN and Virtualized RAN potential with a 5-year forecast for various Open RAN segments including macro and small cell, regions, and baseband/radio. The report also includes projections for virtualized RAN along with a discussion about the market potential and the risks. To purchase this report, please contact us by email at [email protected].
Dell’Oro Group is a market research firm that specializes in strategic competitive analysis in the telecommunications, networks, and data center IT markets. Our firm provides in-depth quantitative data and qualitative analysis to facilitate critical, fact-based business decisions. For more information, contact Dell’Oro Group at +1.650.622.9400 or visit www.delloro.com.
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Separately, Kenneth Research has recently released a report on “Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Market: Global Demand Analysis & Opportunity Outlook 2020-2028” which focuses on the latest market insights, including the key market dynamics, and the strategies of the players operating in the market. The report also utilizes various analytical tools, such as SWOT and PESTEL analysis to better analyze the different market parameters that would help the readers of this report make meaningful decisions for their businesses.
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With the growing demand for 5G technology worldwide, the need for open radio access network (O-RAN) is expected to increase significantly, and in turn, drive the growth of the global open radio access network (O-RAN) market in the coming years. The market registered a revenue of $180 Million in the year 2020 and is further expected to reach a revenue of $22500 Million by the end of 2028, by growing with a CAGR of 85% during the forecast period.

The global open radio access network (O-RAN) market is segmented by region into North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East & Africa.

Amongst the market in these regions, the market in the Asia Pacific generated the largest revenue of $70 Million in the year 2020 and is further expected to hit $8200 Million by the end of 2028.  The market in the region is further segmented by country into Japan, South Korea, India, and the Rest of Asia Pacific. Amongst the market in these countries, the market in India is expected to grow with the highest CAGR of 102% during the forecast period, while the market in Japan is projected to garner the second-largest revenue of  $1900 Million by the end of 2028. Additionally, in the year 2020, the market in Japan registered a revenue of $60 Million.

The market in North America generated a revenue of $50 Million in the year 2020 and is further expected to touch $7000 Million by the end of 2028. The market in the region is further segmented by country into the United States and Canada. Out of these, the market in the United States is expected to display the highest market share by the end of 2028, whereas the market in Canada is projected to grow with the highest CAGR of 137% during the forecast period.

Key companies covered in the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Market Research Report are: Metaswitch Networks, Mavenir, NTT DOCOMO, INC., Sterlite Technologies Limited, Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd., Radisys Corporation, Casa Systems, VIAVI Solutions Inc., Parallel Wireless, Inc., NXP Semiconductors, and other key market players.

Reference:

https://www.kennethresearch.com/report-details/open-radio-access-network-o-ran-market/10352259

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The latest Heavy Reading Open RAN Operator Survey indicates a positive outlook with real signs of momentum over the past year.  Network operators and the wider RAN ecosystem are making steady progress, according to the survey results.

The first question in the survey was designed to help understand how operator sentiment toward open RAN has changed over the past year, in light of better knowledge of the technology, experience from trials, the increased maturity of solutions and changes in the policy environment. The figure below shows just over half (54%) of survey respondents say their company has not changed the pace of its planned open RAN rollout in the past year. There has been movement in the other half, split between those accelerating their plans (20%) and those slowing down (27%). This volatility essentially cancels out, and the overall finding is therefore that operators as a group are working at a steady, measured pace toward open RAN.

A steady outlook is a positive outlook at this stage of the market because it recognizes that open RAN is a major change in RAN architecture and is a long-term, multiyear exercise. After several years of inflated expectations, it is encouraging to see a measured perspective on open RAN coming to the fore.

n=82                                 Source: Heavy Reading

Another area of interest that helps gauge sentiment toward open RAN development relates to operators’ preferred use cases. The figure below reveals that operator intentions for how they will use open RAN are varied. Asked to select their top three use cases, 81 respondents representing 39 operators placed a total of 294 votes for an average of 3.6 per respondent, showing that there is no single open RAN use case or deployment scenario that stands out. Urban small cells (62%), private enterprise networks (57%) and venues and other gathering spots (also 57%) lead the responses.

n=81                                 Source: Heavy Reading

A positive way to interpret this finding is that open RAN is being pursued across a broad base of mobile communication scenarios. Once these models solidify and become “product ready,” then the market might see widespread adoption. Over time, open RAN could become the predominant mode of operation.

A less positive analysis, but one nevertheless worth considering, is that open RAN is a technology still in search of a solution. That is, the industry has committed to open RAN, and now it needs to find ways to make it work. Pursuing a diversity of use cases will help identify which are most promising and warrant investment and deployment at a wider scale.

It is notable that operator preferences for open RAN use cases have not changed much since Heavy Reading’s first survey in 2018; the same three use cases also led at that time. This reinforces the key message that open RAN progress is steady and consistent.

To download a copy of the 2021 Heavy Reading Open RAN Operator Survey, click here.

— Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading

Reference:

https://www.lightreading.com/open-ran-steady-as-she-goes-/a/d-id/774765?

 

Ericsson expresses concerns about O-RAN Alliance and Open RAN performance vs. costs

In a letter to the FCC, Jared M. Carlson, Ericsson’s Vice President, Government Affairs and Public Policy expressed his company’s concern with the O-RAN Alliance. In particular, an August report of the European Commission could not determine whether the O-RAN Alliance was complying with various WTO criteria, including transparency and open procedures, and also noted a concern that any one of the five founding members could effectively veto any proposed specification.

Some O-RAN Alliance specifications are proceeding slowly, according to Ericsson.  One reason why can be explained simply by the resources devoted to the group. For example, O-RAN front-haul meetings (a more mature O-RAN specification) sees about 60 members attending, with only about ten members actively contributing. In contrast, in a typical 3GPP RAN Plenary, there are approximately 600 members delivering 1000 contributions per quarter.

The lack of completed O-RAN specifications means that any such deployments require individual vendors to come to mutual agreements—a far cry from the “plug-and-play” vision of a complete set of Open RAN network interface standards.  Light Reading referred to that months ago as another form of “vendor lock-in.”

Mike Murphy, CTO, Ericsson North America told the FCC that Ericsson has dedicated a number of resources to making O-RAN Alliance specifications successful, delivering about 1000 of 7000 total specifications,” the company told the FCC, citing Murphy’s presentation. “Indeed, without Ericsson’s contributions to the O-RAN Alliance, the timeline for more fully developed standards would likely be even further out in the future.”

Regarding security, Mr. Murphy noted that, again, Ericsson is one the top three contributors to the O-RAN Alliance Security working group.  Yet there are no security specifications from the O-RAN Alliance Security group—there is only a set of requirements.  He also noted that the performance of Open RAN does not compare to (vendor specific, purpose built) integrated RAN. Even if the so called 40% cost saving estimates were true on a per-unit cost basis, the two different types of RAN equipment would not deliver the same level of performance.

Furthermore, Ericsson’s own estimates have indicated that Open RAN is more expensive than integrated RAN given the need for more equipment to accomplish what purpose-built solutions can deliver and increased systems integration costs.  That’s quite shocking considering that many upstarts (e.g. Rakuten, Inland Cellular, etc) have stated Open RAN is cheaper.  For example, “Open RAN will allow for cost savings over proprietary architectures,” Open RAN vendor Mavenir declared in its own recent meeting with FCC officials. The company said open RAN equipment can reduce network providers’ operating expenses by 40% and total cost of ownership by 36%.

Ericsson isn’t the only 5G company cautioning the FCC on Open RAN. Nokia – another major 5G equipment vendor – made similar arguments in a recent presentation to the FCC. “While there are some vendors that only offer open RAN architecture and/or limited RAN products, Nokia is able to provide a choice of classical or open RAN depending on the desires of our customers,”  Nokia explained. “To date, the vast majority of service providers have chosen classical RAN solutions, deferring investment in open RAN until further commercial maturity has been demonstrated.”

Nokia also took issue with the notion that open RAN equipment is dramatically cheaper than traditional, classic RAN equipment. “The draft cost catalog also demonstrates that there are not cost savings being offered through open RAN equipment estimates compared to integrated RAN estimates,” Nokia wrote to the FCC in April following the release of the agency’s initial, draft pricing catalogue.

Many telecom professionals, like John Strand, argue that open RAN is not yet mature. They contend that government mandates that would require the use of the technology – in a furtherance of geopolitical goals – would be misguided. “The US has clearly demonstrated that open and intense competition, not government mandates, is the most effective way to mobilize the telecom industry to enable unprecedented innovation and value creation,” Ericsson told the FCC. “The US led the world in 4G and the ‘app economy’ not by insisting on any particular network standard, but by creating an open, predictable and attractive investment climate for all industry stakeholders and allowing operators to select the best technology based on their needs.”

Mr. Murphy concluded that the Commission and the U.S. government more generally should continue to “keep their eyes on the prize.” Notably, ensuring that the U.S. continues to smooth the way for 5G deployments will continue to pay dividends for the U.S. economy, with over $500 Billion added to the U.S. economy from 5G-enabled business, is the critical job of the day. The key step the Commission can take is to continue to foster the deployment of 5G.

References:

https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/1117953022367/Ericsson%20Open%20RAN%20ex%20parte%20Nov%2017%20FINAL.pdf

https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/1117953022367/Ericsson%20O-RAN%20Update%20FINAL.pdf

https://www.lightreading.com/open-ran/ericsson-actually-open-ran-is-more-expensive/d/d-id/773617?

https://www.lightreading.com/open-ran/fcc-acknowledges-open-ran-is-cheaper-albeit-with-reservations/d/d-id/771467

TIP OpenRAN and O-RAN Alliance liaison and collaboration for Open Radio Access Networks

O-RAN Alliance, Telecom Infra Project (TIP) & OCP Telco may open up telecom equipment market to new entrants

 

Strand Consult: What NTIA won’t tell the FCC about Open RAN

Addendum -Tuesday 23 November 2021:

German study warns of security risks in Open RAN standards 

Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN) based on the standards of the O-RAN Alliance carry significant security risks in their current form, according to a study commissioned by Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). The analysis was carried out by the Barkhausen Institute, an independent research institution, in cooperation with the group Advancing Individual Networks in Dresden and the company Secunet Security Networks.

The implementation of Open RAN standards by the O-RAN Alliance is based on the 5G-RAN specifications developed by the 3GPP. Using a best / worst case scenarios analysis, the German study demonstrated that the Open RAN standards have not yet been sufficiently specified in terms of ‘security by design’, and in some cases carry security risks. The BSI called for the study’s findings to be taken into account in the further development of the Open RAN ecosystem, in order to support the rapid growth of the market with security from the start.

The open RAN project is supported by all three mobile operators in Germany – Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefonica – as well as the 1&1, which is building a fourth network in the country. The German government also recently awarded EUR 32 million in subsidies to support further development of the open RAN technology.

https://www.telecompaper.com/news/german-study-warns-of-security-risks-in-open-ran-standards–1405252

Samsung partners with Orange to deliver 5G vRAN and O-RAN compliant base stations

Samsung Electronics has announced that it is collaborating with the France headquartered telecom operator Orange, to disaggregate the software and hardware elements of traditional RAN. The South Korea based tech giant will provide its virtualized RAN (vRAN), “which has been proven in the field through commercial deployments with global Tier one operators including the U.S.”

As one of the world’s leading telecommunications operators, Orange provides mobile services to 222 million users in 26 countries along with Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Through this partnership, Samsung and Orange aim to deploy O-RAN Alliance-compliant base stations beginning with rural and indoor configurations and then, expanding to new deployments in the future.

Open RAN is a major evolution of radio access that requires deeper cooperation within the industry. With our European peers, we want to accelerate the development of Open RAN solutions that meet our needs. After the publication of common specifications, Orange’s Open RAN Integration Center will support the development and tuning of solutions from a broad variety of actors,” said Arnaud Vamparys, Senior Vice President of Radio Access Networks and Microwaves at Orange.

Samsung’s vRAN solutions can help ensure more network flexibility, greater scalability and resource efficiency for network operation by replacing dedicated baseband hardware with software elements. Additionally, Samsung’s vRAN supports both low and mid-band spectrums, as well as indoor and outdoor solutions. Samsung is the only major network vendor that has conducted vRAN commercial deployments with Tier one operators in North America, Europe and Asia.

“We are pleased to participate in Orange’s innovative laboratory,” said Woojune Kim, Executive Vice President, Head of Global Sales & Marketing, Networks Business at Samsung Electronics. “Through this collaboration, we look forward to taking networks to new heights in the European market, enabling operators to offer more immersive mobile services to their users.”

By opening its Open RAN Integration Center in Châtillon, near Paris, Orange will enable the testing and deployment of networks capable of operating with innovative technologies, which will serve as the backbone of the operator’s future networks. At the center, Samsung and Orange will conduct trials to verify capabilities and performance of Samsung’s vRAN, radio and Massive MIMO radio.

With a vRAN approach, carriers are able to rapidly shift capacity to address customer needs. For business customers, vRAN can drive more efficient access to private 5G networks through easy deployment of baseband software in Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) facilities.

“We are committed to providing reliable, secure, and flexible network solutions that deliver the power of 5G around the world,” said Magnus Ojert, Vice President, Networks Division, Samsung Electronics America. “We believe vRAN’s next phase of innovation will accelerate what’s possible for society and look forward to collaborating with an industry-leader like Verizon to make 5G a reality for millions in 2021.”

Samsung says they have “pioneered the successful delivery of 5G end-to-end infrastructure solutions including chipsets, radios and core. Through ongoing research and development, Samsung drives the industry to advance 5G networks with its market-leading product portfolio from fully virtualized RAN and Core to private network solutions and AI-powered automation tools. The company is currently providing network solutions to mobile operators that deliver connectivity to hundreds of millions of users around the world.”

References:

https://news.samsung.com/global/samsung-and-orange-collaborate-to-advance-5g-networks-to-a-new-level

https://www.samsung.com/global/business/networks/products/radio-access/virtualized-ran/

https://www.samsung.com/global/business/networks/insights/press-release/0122-samsung-expands-5g-technology-leadership-with-fully-virtualized-commercial-5g-ran/

Samsung’s 5G vRAN adoption could be a key turning point for the industry

O-RAN Alliance tries to allay concerns; Strand Consult disagrees!

The O-RAN Alliance reiterated its commitment towards Open and intelligent Radio Access Network (RAN) and said its board has approved changes to O-RAN “participation documents and procedures” to allay concerns of some participants who may be subjected to U.S. export regulations.

The O-RAN Alliance became aware of concerns regarding some participants that may be subject to U.S. export regulations, and has been working with O-RAN participants to address these concerns. The O-RAN Board has approved changes to O-RAN participation documents and procedures. While it is up to each O-RAN participant to make their own evaluation of these changes, O-RAN is optimistic that the changes will address the concerns and facilitate O-RAN’s mission.

“O-RAN is an open and collaborative global alliance operating in a way that promotes transparency and participation of our member companies in the development and adoption of global open specifications and standards,” said Andre Fuetsch, Chairman of the O-RAN ALLIANCE and Chief Technology Officer of AT&T.

“We remain fully committed to working together in the alliance to achieve the goals and objectives of O-RAN as quickly as possible,” said Alex Jinsung Choi, Chief Operating Officer of the O-RAN ALLIANCE and SVP of Strategy and Technology Innovation, Deutsche Telekom.

This comes after Nokia halted its work in the Open RAN industry alliance over concerns that it may face penalties from the U.S. government for working with blacklisted Chinese entities.

John Strand’s comments:

This statement is not solving the Chinese security problem.  Even with the proposed changes, the five founding members, including China Mobile, still have a veto. The statement from O-RAN Alliance raises more questions than it answers. Who are the member companies, do the network operators agree with the O-RAN Alliance statement? How about contributors and the license adopters?

Strand Consult wants to create the transparency O-RAN Alliance are fighting against, and I share the concerns of the EU and the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee when it comes to transparency. At the same time, we believe it is a great idea for O-RAN Alliance to become WTO (World Trade Organization) compliant like other professional telecom standard bodies. What’s the problem for ORAN Alliance to be WTO compliant? It’s hard to see any downside.

Strand Consult doesn’t believe the changes will satisfy WTO requirements nor does it align with the practices of professional standards organizations nor with shareholder practices of U.S. and EU publicly traded companies.

Last year Strand Consult exposed the 44 Chinese companies involved in the O-RAN Alliance three of them on the entity list.

The O-RAN Alliance proposes changes to mitigate Chinese involvement. However these changes will probably not satisfy WTO compliance rules. Here are some relevant report from EU/WTO and European Commission (EC) on OpenRAN: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tbt_e/principles_standards_tbt_e.htm

https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/library/commission-publishes-study-future-5g-supply-ecosystem-europe

https://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/dae/redirection/document/78778 (page 76).

The EC’s report is based on publicly available information and an interview with a legal expert on the WTO rules and EU Regulation No 1025/2012. It notes the following concerns with the O-RAN Alliance’s proposed changes:

  • First,  the  required  transparency,  i.e.  all  essential  information  is  easily  accessible  to  all  interested parties, is only partly fulfilled, e.g. the O-RAN specifications are not accessible at  the homepage.
  • Second, the procedure is not open in a non-discriminatory manner during all stages of the  standard-setting process, because the founding members have access to more information than the contributors during the process.
  • Third, 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.

Overall, proof that the O-RAN Alliance complies with the various WTO criteria is  still missing, although some of their members assure this compliance is in place. “Consequently, such an independent  assessment is needed, which, however, cannot be realized within the context of this project.”

The O-RAN Alliance does not satisfy the openness criteria laid down in WTO Principles  for the Development of International Standards, Guides and Recommendations. The O-RAN Alliance is a closed industrial collaboration developing technical RAN specification over and above 3GPP specifications or ITU-R recommendations.

3GPP was formed after 2G (GSM) was developed this means that 3GPP did not develop 2G but 3GPP ensured backward compatibility for every G. Note that 3GPP specifications define the technical specifications for a complete mobile cellular network 2G/3G/4G/5G.  ITU-R recommendations only cover the radio access interface technologies, e.g. ITU M.2150/IMT 2020 for “5G.”

It is possible that some U.S. firms could be satisfied with the O-RAN Alliances proposals, but the fact remains that Chinese companies still exert disproportionate authority on this industry group. It is not yet clear with U.S. President Biden or the NTIA will weigh in on the matter.  If not, this could be interpreted as placating, or even going soft on China.

Strand Consult discloses on its website that it is a company providing knowledge to the mobile industry, specifically mobile operators and their managers, executives, and boards of directors. Strand Consult only sells knowledge to mobile operators, and Strand Consult has done this for 25 years (see About Strand Consult below).

About O-RAN ALLIANCE:

The O-RAN ALLIANCE is a world-wide community of over 300 mobile operators, vendors, and research & academic institutions operating in the Radio Access Network (RAN) industry. As the RAN is an essential part of any mobile network, the O-RAN ALLIANCE’s mission is to re-shape the industry towards more intelligent, open, virtualized and fully interoperable mobile networks. The new O-RAN standards will enable a more competitive and vibrant RAN supplier ecosystem with faster innovation to improve user experience. O-RAN based mobile networks will at the same time improve the efficiency of RAN deployments as well as operations by the mobile operators. To achieve this, the O-RAN ALLIANCE publishes new RAN specifications, releases open software for the RAN, and supports its members in integration and testing of their implementations.

About Strand Consult:

There are six focus areas:
– The mobile broadband market
– The MVNO market
– The market for Value Added Services
– Next Generation Prepaid Services
– The Smartphone market
– Digital strategy for the Telecom and Media industry.

We have spent many man years researching and publishing a series of comprehensive reports and workshops focused on these areas. Market players that have ambitions of being successful within these areas can either try to gain an overview themselves, find solutions and purchase external consultants to help them on their way, or alternatively use Strand Consult’s reports – with or without workshops -to acquire the knowledge they need to be successful in the future.

You can read more about some of our reports here:
Successful Strategies for the Mobile Broadband Market

References:

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210913005701/en/O-RAN-ALLIANCE-Remains-Fully-Committed-to-its-Mission-Towards-Open-and-Intelligent-RAN

https://strandconsult.dk/about-us/

Huawei CTO Says No to Open RAN and Virtualized RAN

Paul Scanlan, CTO of Huawei Carrier Business Group made clear what everyone already knew- that the Chinese tech giant doesn’t support Open RAN or Virtualized RAN (vRAN).  On a media call today, Scanlan noted that Open RAN has a lot of problems: It isn’t standardized, it can’t be easily integrated with existing network infrastructure, and it’s not ready for the most intense period of 5G deployments coming up with 5G SA core networks.

“It’s not that it’s not going to happen, and I believe it will in different guises but I’m not sure whether … from a commercial perspective, is it too late practically? The challenge is it’s not standardized. It’s an association. Because things are not standardized, no standards, you don’t get cooperation, you don’t get competition, you don’t get innovation to drive this,” Scanlan said, describing groups such as the O-RAN Alliance as “just a bunch of friends.”

Absent standardization, technologies like open RAN become fragmented and lack interoperability — two outcomes that most network operators are unwilling to accept, according to Scanlan.

The IEEE Techblog has noted from day one that neither the O-RAN Alliance or TIP Open RAN project are standards development organizations (SDOs). Worse, is they don’t even have liaisons with ITU-R, ETSI, or 3GPP which are (although 3GPP specs must be transposed by SDOs like ETSI or submitted to ITU-R WP 5D to become binding standards).

In June, Scanlan told Asia Times that Huawei has already built enterprise networks for 2,000 manufacturing companies and plans to build 16,000 next year. The Chinese tech giant has also built 5,300 private networks for mining companies, Scanlan stated.  Today, he said that the real cost for network operators is opex, rather than capex.

“The telecom operator’s problem is not capex, it’s actually opex,” he said, adding that opex eats up about 65% of the average cost per site for site rental, backhaul, and energy. RAN comprises about 12% of opex costs per site on average, he said.  The implication is that Open RAN opex will be higher than that of conventional RANs with purpose built network equipment from legacy base station vendors.

Another challenge for open RAN involves security and point of responsibility. That’s because of many more exposed interfaces between different vendor equipment.  In a typical open RAN deployment “you’ve got three or four vendors all providing components (modules) that are going to be patched together. Scanlan asked, “Who’s responsible for making sure that it’s going to be secure or it’s going to deliver” on performance and fall in line with guaranteed operating costs?”

“Everybody says from a cybersecurity perspective it’ll be more secure. Well, I don’t agree with that. I mean, who’s going to be responsible?”

Critics of O-RAN argue that the much-touted alternative to Huawei will be costly, cumbersome and ineffective. Henry Kressel wrote in Asia Times on December 29, 2020:

O-RAN proposes to open up only part of the proprietary wireless network, namely the part that goes from the antenna to the delivery of transportable data packets to the extended interconnection network that routs the  packets to their ultimate destination. These functions are currently performed using equipment and software proprietary to each equipment vendor.

This is a big ,multiyear project that requires the collaborative efforts of industry and governments. These technologies are complex and require extremely high levels of reliability – hence, extensive and costly testing.

The O-RAN Coalition has recommended that US federal sources put $1 billion into the project. But even if government money is forthcoming, it will be only the beginning of a costly development project. One estimate from a reliable industry expert states that at least five years might be needed before competitive products meeting the new standards could reach the market.

“So many people just throw out (?) virtualization or throw out (?) vRAN, or open RAN, and all the rest for different types of reasons,” he said. “If you’ve not been either developing the technology or you’re not at the operator’s point to understand the challenges and the pain points of each of them, then often a lot of the reasons why we want to do something is perhaps for political reasons [1.] and just haven’t been very well thought out.”

Note 1.  Many believe the motivation and impetus for Open RAN is to permit new base station vendors, particularly skilled in virtualization software, to enter the 4G/5G market.  Two particular politically inspired vendor targets are Huawei and ZTE who are not permitted to join either O-RAN or TIP projects.

Of course there are also performance issues with the commoditized chips that will be used for Open RAN.  Several years ago, Huawei explored the use of commoditized silicon in its 5G network equipment, but “the problem was that the jitter at the substrate level was too high. It would not achieve the targets that we wanted in terms of latency, so we had to develop the chip ourselves,” Scanlan said.

“For virtualized RAN, what do you want to do with virtualization, what’s the target objective? When we put things in a cloud the first thing we’re really trying to do is create flexibility and resource scaling. And because it’s software driven, we’re able to change those things and downstream everything can operate from it,” Scanlon explained.

“Within the next two or three years, there are no commercial opportunities for open RAN because of technological maturity,” Victor Zhang, Huawei’s vice president, told Light Reading when asked what Huawei was doing to support the concept. “There is still a long way to go with open RAN.”

One problem is that the general-purpose processors used in open RAN baseband equipment are less power-efficient than customized gear. Huawei summed this up in 2019. “There is a specific R&D team doing research on using white boxes with Intel CPUs [central processing units] in 4G basestations and the power consumption is ten times more,” said Peter Zhou, the chief marketing officer of Huawei’s wireless products line, at a London event. “5G is [even] more complicated and an Intel CPU gives you a problem with jitter. In terms of existing CPU technology, we haven’t seen the possibility of using that with 5G basestations.”

John Strand, the CEO of Strand Consult, thinks it inconceivable that Huawei is not privy to the O-RAN Alliance’s activities. Smaller Chinese vendors could even be representing Huawei, he has suggested. It seems highly likely that links between China Mobile and Huawei are much stronger than connections between a European operator and its main supplier.

References:

https://www.sdxcentral.com/articles/news/huawei-cto-disses-virtualized-open-ran/2021/09/

O-RAN an also-ran to Huawei 5G

Dell’Oro Group increases Open RAN radio and baseband revenue forecast

https://www.lightreading.com/open-ran/huawei-gives-another-thumbs-down-to-open-ran—or-so-it-says/d/d-id/768660

Dell’Oro Group increases Open RAN radio and baseband revenue forecast

Dell’Oro Group has revised their Open RAN radio and baseband forecast.  Total cumulative Open RAN revenues are now projected to approach $10B to $15B between 2020 and 2025.

“The momentum with both commercial deployments and the broader Open RAN movement continued to improve during 1H21, bolstering the thesis that Open RAN is here to stay,” said Stefan Pongratz, Vice President and analyst with the Dell’Oro Group. “We are adjusting the forecast upward to reflect the higher baseline and the improved pipeline,” continued Pongratz.

Additional highlights from the Dell’Oro Group Open RAN Advanced Research Report:

  • Open RAN revenues are expected to account for more than 10 percent of the overall RAN market by 2025, reflecting healthy traction in multiple regions with both basic and advanced radios.
  • Open RAN Massive MIMO projections have been revised upward to reflect the improved competitive landscape and the improved market sentiment with upper mid-band Open RAN.
  • The shift towards Virtualized RAN (V-RAN) is progressing at a slightly slower pace than Open RAN. Still, total V-RAN projections remain relatively unchanged, with V-RAN expected to approach $2 B to $3 B by 2025.

Separately, Stefan wrote:

The long-term open RAN vision is built on three key pillars including open interfaces, virtualized technologies and vendor neutral multi-vendor deployments. In addition to leading the industry toward open and interoperable interfaces, the long-term roadmap maximizes the use of COTS hardware and minimizes the reliance on proprietary hardware (O-RAN Alliance).

Taking into consideration that one of the primary objectives is to capture the overall movement toward open RAN and the fact that it will take some time to realize the broader vision, it is somewhat implied that there will be room for interpretation when it comes to capturing this movement and tracking the open RAN market.

And within each of these pillars, there will be various degrees of compliance. Multi-vendor deployments are often associated with mixing and matching baseband and radio suppliers. But when Mavenir introduced the term “True Open RAN,” it meant true mixing and matching across the board – they want to work with anyone with any component. If someone gives them a radio they should be able to integrate it with their software. And vice versa, if another supplier provides the software “True Open RAN” would enable them to make it work with their Massive MIMO radios.

Not surprisingly, there is room for interpretation with the other building blocks as well. Open RAN compatible radios are now proliferating across the supplier landscape. But it is not always clear after browsing the data sheets what this entails from an open RAN specifications, customization and coverage perspective. With five interfaces (A1, E2, O1, O2, Open FH), multiple functions (SMO, Non-Real time RIC, Near-Real-Time RIC), and a confluence of profiles, there is not an abundance of confidence that the open RAN maturity would be consistent across the board.

About the Report

The Dell’Oro Group Open RAN Advanced Research Report offers an overview of the Open RAN and Virtualized RAN potential with a 5-year forecast for various Open RAN segments including macro and small cell, regions, and baseband/radio. The report also includes projections for virtualized RAN along with a discussion about the vision, the ecosystem, the market potential, and the risks.

To purchase this report, please contact [email protected]

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Rebuttal:  Open RAN Forecasts Way too High!

While not a market analyst cranking out forecasts, this author believes the Open RAN market will be a huge disappointment and revenues will be much lower than Dell’Oro and other market research firms forecast.

As Light Reading has correctly said, Open RAN is trading one type of vendor lock-in for another. 

Trading one version of vendor ‘lock-in’ for another?  Image Credit: Light Reading

That’s because the O-RAN Alliance specs have not led to vendor neutral interoperability, but rather partnerships amongst vendors to provide a complete Open RAN solution.

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.

References:

Open RAN Forecast Revised Upward, According to Dell’Oro Group

https://www.lightreading.com/open-ran/say-hello-to-open-ran-ecosystem-or-vendor-lock-in-20/d/d-id/767225

https://www.fiercewireless.com/tech/not-all-open-ran-same-industry-voices-pongratz

https://techblog.comsoc.org/?q=Open%20RAN#gsc.tab=0&gsc.q=Open%20RAN&gsc.page=1

https://techblog.comsoc.org/?q=Open%20RAN#gsc.tab=0&gsc.q=Open%20RAN&gsc.page=2

https://techblog.comsoc.org/2020/12/04/omdia-and-delloro-group-increase-open-ran-forecasts/

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.

Quotes:

“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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References:

https://investor.juniper.net/investor-relations/press-releases/press-release-details/2021/Juniper-Networks-Deepens-Commitment-to-Open-RAN-Innovation-Integrates-Intel-Technology/default.aspx

https://www.sdxcentral.com/articles/news/juniper-nudges-open-ran-ric-into-intel-flexran/2021/09/

Additional Resources:

Media Relations:
Lori Langona
Juniper Networks
+1 (831) 818-8758
[email protected]

 

Strand Consult: What NTIA won’t tell the FCC about Open RAN

by John Strand, CEO and Founder of Strand Consult (see company profile and bio below)

Introduction:

In “NTIA Comments on Promoting the Deployment of 5G Open Radio Access Networks,” (Docket Number: GN-Docket No. 21-63) the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) makes many claims about Open RAN [1] and states what appears to be official U.S. Executive Branch policy promoting that technology.  In particular:

As stated in the Implementation Plan of the National Strategy to Secure 5G, the U.S. Executive Branch agrees that “close coordination between the United States Government, private sector, academic, and international government partners is required to ensure adoption of policies, standards, guidelines, and procurement strategies that reinforce 5G vendor diversity and foster market competition.”  One promising solution in line with these objectives is open, interoperable networks, including Open RAN. While this response focuses on Open RAN, the Executive Branch’s policy is to promote the development of Open RAN alongside other policies, technologies, and architectures that support 5G vendor diversity and foster market competition.

Strand Consult analyzes these claims, their references, and the assumptions underpinning them from security and economics perspectives. Strand Consult’s report also includes an appendix fact checking 35 claims by NTIA and well as 133 additional references to help investigate the technology.

OpenRAN (open radio access network) is an evolving topic. It is an industrial concept, not a technical standard. Stakeholders, including NTIA may define OpenRAN differently, provide different definitions, ascribe different purposes to it, and have different expectations.

Editor’s Note: 

There are two Open RAN spec writing bodies- the O-RAN Alliance and the Telecom Infra Project Open RAN Group. Neither of them have a liaison with either 3GPP or ITU-R WP 5D which have produced specifications/standards for 4G-LTE Advanced and 5G RAN/RIT specifications (3GPP  Release 10 and Release 15 & 16, respectively) and ITU-R standards (M.2012-4, and M.2150, respectively).  The O-RAN Alliance does have a liaison arrangement with GSMA which this author claims was an Ultra-Oxymoron.

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Strand Consult’s research question is to determine if, when, and how OpenRAN and O-RAN will replace conventional RAN on a 1:1 basis without compromising network quality, security, energy efficiency, and other important factors. Mobile operators have little ability to raise price, so operators must compete on network quality coverage and other factors.

Executive Summary:

We don’t believe NTIA’s comments provide insight to answer our questions. Strand Consult has found that most of the comments in NTIA’s report restate talking points from the OpenRAN industry and present policy arguments as if they were fact or technical analysis. As advisor to the US President and policy lead for the Executive Branch on telecommunications, NTIA is considered an authority and is expected to produce serious, objective policy. Indeed it would be welcome for an objective report from NTIA on OpenRAN with an authoritative list of critical references and information from test installations of the technology. Unfortunately NTIA’s report falls short of this expectation.

In our opinion, the main shortcoming of the report is that NTIA has either overlooked, ignored, or is unaware of the role of Chinese vendors in the OpenRAN industry. The separate but related ORAN Alliance has 44 Chinese vendors, many which are explicitly state-owned and military-aligned. At least 7 of these entities are on the US Dept of Commerce Entity List and others have lost their Federal Communications Commission operating license.  NTIA has not conducted a security assessment of OpenRAN and yet it blesses the technology and pronounces that it is Executive Branch policy to pursue it.  Strand Consult investigates NTIA’s other comments about the infrastructure market, competition, prices, and innovation and finds that many of them are either unevidenced or proffered by self-interested OpenRAN actors.

O-RAN Alliance Reference Architecture:

Image Credit:  O-RAN Alliance

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Strand Consult’s Analysis:

In an effort to lift the level of policy discussion, Strand Consult reviewed “NTIA Comments on Promoting the Deployment of 5G Open Radio Access Networks” from July 16th to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) a part of the Inquiry in the proceeding on open radio access networks (Open RAN). The highly respected NTIA is chartered to advise the President and represent the Executive Branch view on telecommunications, and there is an expectation that NTIA’s reports are objective, authoritative, and empirical, particularly with its roster of employee scientists and technologists. The document submitted to the FCC appears to be written by staff lawyers and makes many debatable claims which are either unsupported or based on advocacy materials from the OpenRAN industry.

NTIA’s OpenRAN document does not live up to expectations for the following reasons:
 Its lack of objectivity and empirical support
 Its overlooking role of Chinese vendors in OpenRAN ecosystem
 Its misunderstanding of the economics of infrastructure and innovation
 Its unfounded assertions about competition and the role of OpenRAN.

Lack of objectivity and empirical support. Citing of interested parties as experts. The OpenRAN document published by NTIA offers very little empirical, or even academic policy, evidence for its assertions. Most of references cited, 55%, come from OpenRAN advocacy groups or companies with a financial interest in OpenRAN, for example self-described OpenRAN vendors. The main part of the document’s references are not technical studies but rather policy arguments.

Moreover, NTIA fails to disclose that its preferred sources are advocacy organizations. While there is nothing illegal about citing advocacy organizations, government agencies like NTIA are supposed to be above touting advocacy as fact, science, and official policy.

The O-RAN Alliance [2] develops technical specifications for 4G and 5G RAN internal functions and interface, not for 2G and 3G. The O-RAN Alliance is not a standards development organization (SDOs) [3] like ITU-R and ITU-T. The O-RAN Alliance does not satisfy the openness criteria laid down in Word Trade Organization Principles [4] for the Development of International Standards, Guides and Recommendations.

The O-RAN Alliance is a closed industrial collaboration developing technical RAN specification on top of 3GPP specifications and ITU-R standards for 4G and 5G.

While industrial cooperation is important, there can be no mobile networks without the basic work of organizations like ITU-R WP 5D, 3GPP (which is NOT a SDO) and its seven regional members (which are SDOs) [5].

OpenRAN concepts include: cloudification, automation and open RAN internal interfaces do follow some elements of 3GPP specifications.

It appears that NTIA is attempting to elevate the O-RAN Alliance, essentially a closed association, with established WTO compliant SDOs (e.g. ITU and IEEE) and global consortia like 3GPP. Such an elevation is false and deceptive, and NTIA should clarify why it promotes a closed association that doesn’t meet openness requirements in WTO.

NTIA could have balanced this shortcoming by referencing some the widely published critical reviews of OpenRAN. Unfortunately, it does not. For example, U.S. federal documents can create credibility by objectively stating competing views and discussing the merits, similar to the Congressional Research Service [6].

Because NTIA appears only to provide favorable views of OpenRAN from interested parties, its document is tainted with bias. It reads like a set of talking points from the OpenRAN Policy Coalition, the a front for the OpenRAN industry’s interests.

Overlooking the role of Chinese vendors in the OpenRAN ecosystem:

Another shortcoming is the apparent ignorance of the role of Chinese vendors in the OpenRAN ecosystem. NTIA forgets to name the 44 Chinese companies that make up the second largest national group in the O-RAN Alliance. It failed to disclose that seven of these actors are either on the U.S. Entity List [7] and have lost their FCC license to operate [8] . Those companies include: China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, ZTE, Inspur, Phytium and Kindroid, companies
which are integrated with the Chinese government and military.

Nor does NTIA disclose that the European telco Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) [between Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica, TIM, Vodafone and Orange] that OpenRAN should be built on top of Kubernetes [9], which is  a software
technology platform that has been infiltrated by the Chinese.

While it began life in 2014 as a Google project, Kubernetes currently is under the jurisdiction of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, an offshoot of the Linux Foundation (perhaps the world’s largest open-source organization).

By late 2017, Huawei had gained a seat on the Kubernetes Steering Committee. Huawei claims to be the fifth-biggest contributor of software code to Kubernetes.

According to the “Report on the 2020 FOSS Contributor Survey” [10] from The Linux Foundation & The Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard, the open source community spends very little time responding to security issues (an average of 2.27% of their total contribution time) and reports that it does not desire to increase this metric significantly.

It appears to be a problem that Huawei and ZTE are increasingly involved in the leading open source technology 11 used by OpenRAN developers. It is not clear how this acceptance of Chinese involvement in OpenRAN is consistent with President Biden’s tough stance on security vis-à-vis China and other threat actors [12].

Conclusions:

NTIA’s document appears to endorse the O-RAN Alliance for the security of OpenRAN. However, NTIA doesn’t provide technical analysis or a security assessment of O-RAN Alliance specifications. It is not clear from the document whether NTIA had access to these specifications to conduct an assessment. In any event, ORAN Alliance members exchange specifications on OpenRAN every 6 months. This means that the 44 Chinese companies in the O-RAN Alliance get fresh OpenRAN “code” at least twice a year, NTIA provides no threat analysis, risk assessment nor potential mitigation of these processes.

–>This is a breathtaking omission that alone warrants further attention by the NTIA.

NTIA could have strengthened its credibility by providing an authoritative, empirical document to inform policymakers objectively about OpenRAN. Instead NTIA offers a document which merely restates the talking points of OpenRAN advocacy groups and industry. This fails the U.S. Executive branch and the American people who expect quality information and impartial judgement from an expert agency.

More importantly, the NTIA document mis-informs readers about the security risks of OpenRAN which greatly extends the cyber security attack surface with its many “open interfaces.”

Hopefully, NTIA will review the empirical information and update its assessment in a new report.

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Readers who know something about OpenRAN are welcome to weigh in with their comments in the box below this article.

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Notes & Hyperlinks:

1. https://www.ntia.gov/fcc-filing/2021/ntia-comments-promoting-deployment-5g-open-radio-access-networks

https://www.ntia.gov/files/ntia/publications/ntia_comments_-_open_ran_noi_gn_21-63_7.16.21.pdf
2. https://www.o-ran.org/
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standards_organization          4. https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tbt_e/principles_standards_tbt_e.htm
5. https://www.3gpp.org/about-3gpp

6. Disruptive Analysis Report: Telecom & 5G Supply Diversification A long term view: demand diversification, Open
RAN & 6G path dependence

https://www.linkedin.com/postsdeanbubley_disruptive-analysis-5g-supply-diversification-activity-6763038817348808704-jaAY

https://www.lightreading.com/open-ran/verizon-t-mobile-outline-their-open-ran-fears/d/d-id/769201  https://www.lightreading.com/open-ran/open-ran-has-missed-5g-boat-says-three-uk-boss/d/d-id/766258?
7. https://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/policy-guidance/lists-of-parties-of-concern/entity-list
8. https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-denies-china-mobile-telecom-services-application-0 
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-telecom-idUSKBN2B92FE  9.https://www.telefonica.com/documents/737979/146026852/Open-RAN-Technical-Priorities-Executive-Summary.pdf/cdbf0310-4cfe-5c2f-2dfb-c68b8c8a8186
10. Page 5 of: https://www.linuxfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020FOSSContributorSurveyReport_121020.pdf
11. https://merics.org/en/short-analysis/china-bets-open-source-technologies-boost-domestic-innovation
12. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-biden-cyber-war-idUSKBN2EX2S9

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About Strand Consult:

Strand Consult is an independent consultancy with 25 years of telecom industry experience.  Strand Consult is known for its expert knowledge and many reports which help mobile operators and their shareholders navigate an increasing complex world. It has 170 mobile operators from around the world on its client list.

John Strand (photo below) is CEO of Strand Consult.  He founded Strand Consult in 1995.

The mobile industry exploded in the 1990s, and Strand Consult grew along with its new clients from the mobile industry, analyzing market trends, publishing reports and holding executive workshops that have helped telecom operators, mobile services providers, technology manufacturers all over the world focus on their business strategies and maximizing the return on their investments.

References:

https://www.ntia.doc.gov/fcc-filing/2021/ntia-comments-promoting-deployment-5g-open-radio-access-networks

ntia_comments_-_open_ran_noi_gn_21-63_7.16.21.pdf (doc.gov)

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

OpenRAN MoU Group

Ultra Oxymoron: GSMA teams up with O-RAN Alliance without liaison with 3GPP or ITU

Strand Consult: The 10 Parameters of Open RAN; AT&T memo to FCC

Strand Consult: 5G in 2019 and 2020 telecom predictions

Strand Consulting: Why the Quality of Mobile Networks Differs

 

India’s Success in 5G Standards; IIT Hyderabad & WiSig Networks Initiatives

by Prof. Kiran Kuchi, PhD & Dean of Research at Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad (IITH) -edited by Alan J Weissberger, ScD EE

The development of 5G happens through a global forum called the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). It’s a partnership between seven global Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) of which Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI) is a member. 3GPP kickstarted the 5G project in 2016 where we made substantial contributions to three successive releases of 5G specifications to date. IITH primarily led the efforts with significant support from CEWiT, IITM, and other Indian corporations (Tejas Networks and Reliance Jio are our major industry partners) with well over 300 technical documents submitted to date.

These sustained efforts led to the incorporation of several innovations introduced into the global 5G standards. One significant contribution that stands out is the introduction of a new transmit waveform, the only new waveform that is adopted in 5G, which is a generational change.

Both 4G and 5G adopted a waveform technology called OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) that is quite suitable for the downlink transmission (that is the link between a base station (BS) and user equipment (UE)) but not so well suitable for the reverse link (that is the link between UE and BS). The limitations of OFDM owes to low-power efficiency (of about 10%). Prof Kuchi has designed a new waveform called “pi/2 BPSK with spectrum shaping” that provides close to 100% power efficiency and yet retains all the other advantages offered by OFDM.

This new transmit waveform allows the power amplifier in the UE to operate near its saturation level thus delivering a 3-4fold increase in the transmission power, and a hardware cost similar to that of OFDM. The overall gain in the cell range compared to OFDM will be at least twofold, hence this became a driver behind the design of the large cell 5G concept.

This indigenous waveform technology is developed for over a decade and is covered by a family of patents developed by IITH and CEWiT. There are well over 100 patents filed by IITH and WiSig to date. These patents will likely become the backbone of our indigenous 5G ecosystem. India’s 5G at ITU There are two parallel tracks that India took during the 5G development. The first effort is the aforementioned contributions to the 3GPP-based 5G standard, and our second noteworthy contribution is through TSDSI and the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). The second effort is led by IITM on the ITU front with significant backing and support from IITH, CEWiT (and Indian Industry such as Tejas networks, Reliance Jio).

ITU is a United Nations body that specifies requirements and radio standards for 5G known generically as IMT 2020. ITU-R WP5D had adopted India’s proposed Low-Mobility-Large-Cell (LMLC) use case as a mandatory 5G requirement in 2017. This requirement was adopted by ITU-R WP5D mainly as a result of sustained effort by the Indian entities through the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to address the unique Indian rural broadband deployment scenario. Several countries supported this use case as they saw a similar need in their jurisdictions as well. TSDSI took this opportunity to develop the so-called LMLC based 5G technology that is a modification of 3GPP-based 5G specification.

This indigenously developed standard designated as 5Gi will deliver ultra-fast, low-latency mobile internet and next-generation IoT services in both cellular and mm-wave spectral bands that are common to all 5G candidate standards and adds “pi/2 BPSK with spectrum shaping waveform” as a mandatory technological enhancement that can provide broadband connectivity to rural users using ultra-long range cell sites.

This enhancement will ensure that 100% of India’s villages are covered from towers located at panchayat villages, whereas nearly a third of such villages would be out of coverage otherwise. Both 5G and 5Gi are fully compatible and interoperable systems that are being leveraged for the upcoming deployments in India. Adoption of the LMLC based 5G standards in India will enable India to leap forward in the 5G space, with key innovations introduced by Indian entities accepted as part of global wireless standards for the first time. The nation stands to gain enormously both in achieving the required 5G penetration in rural and urban areas as well as in nurturing the nascent Indian R&D ecosystem to make a global impact. The current national efforts are aligned with the national digital communication policy that promotes innovation, equipment design, and manufacturing out of India for the world market.

MeitY has been funding our wireless research for the past 10 years and these efforts have led to the development of larger wireless programs. More recently, the DoT (India Dept of Telecom) has sanctioned the “Indigenous 5G Testbed” program with a project outlay of 224 crores to IITH, IITM, CEWiT, IITK, IITB, IISc, and SAMEER.

This 3-year program, already close to completion, started yielding results in the form of prototype base stations, CPE/UE and NB-IoT chipsets. IITH stands out with major contributions to key 5G technologies such as cloud RAN base station with massive MIMO capability and cellular NB-IoT chipset for connecting sensors and meters to the internet. We are gearing towards full-fledged demonstration and field trials.

An upcoming player in the 5G space WiSig Networks (WiSig) is a 5G start-up incubated at the IITH tech incubator (i-tic foundation). WiSig has developed a 5G radio access network (5G-RAN) based on an emerging technology called O-RAN (Open-Radio-Access Network), that is being touted as the next major disruptor in the 5G landscape. This technology allows rapid deployment of low-cost, software upgradable 5G base stations in significantly higher volumes and larger densities than the current 4G network.

O-RAN is a disaggregated 4G/5G base station based on open interfaces and general purpose hardware. It is being defined by the O-RAN alliance, TIP Open RAN project and ONF SD-RAN v1.0 Software Platform for Open RAN.

Some operators have initiated the deployment of O-RAN based software-defined network and virtualization networks that enable self-organization, low operational cost and ease of introduction of new features and service upgrades. New 5G use cases can be introduced rapidly on the fly using software upgrades as opposed to costly and time-consuming hardware development cycles. WiSig has created commercial grade IP in this space and is well on track to carry out one of India’s first O-RAN compliant demonstrations of a software defined 5G massive MIMO base station.  Overall, WiSig is well on its path to deliver 5G RAN intellectual property components to the global 5G supply chain.

LMLC based 5G technology is a modification of 3GPP-based 5G New Radio (NR) specification.  This indigenously developed LMLC ITU-R standard, designated as 5Gi, will deliver ultra-fast, low-latency mobile internet and next-generation IoT services in both cellular and mm-wave spectral bands that are common to all 5G candidate standards and adds “pi/2 BPSK with spectrum shaping waveform” as a mandatory technological enhancement that can provide broadband connectivity to rural users using ultra-long range cell sites.

In contrast to high-speed mobile broadband, a vast number of IoT applications requires few bits to be exchanged with the internet intermittently. The key considerations of these kind of IoT devices are that they are ultra-low-cost and have a long battery life – up to 10 years. Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) (Belongs to the 5G family of technologies is well suited for this purpose and is quietly emerging as a killer application for lowbit rate IoT applications. IITH and WiSig joined hands in commercializing a NB-IoT SoC (System on a Chip) that was successfully taped out in Q1 2021.

The chip is named “Koala” after an animal indigenous to Australia that sleeps about 20 hours a day – typical behavior of the NB-IoT modem.

Given that this is the first time a standards compliant cellular modem is designed in India and that both the software and hardware that goes into the chip is developed indigenously, this chip should preferably be leveraged to serve the security needs of critical national IoT infrastructure.

In summary, the investments made by Meity and DoT on 5G research have started to bear fruit in delivering the basic technological components and sub-systems required to build 5G. The time is ripe for the Government to nurture domestic design and manufacturing of 5G equipment. The country has enough talent and the technological depth required to support a domestic 5G ecosystem. With the right kind of policy support, then India is likely to see a 5G/IoT domestic manufacturing revolution within this decade. IITH will continue to play a pivotal role in shaping the 5G ecosystem not only in India but globally as well.

About Kiran Kumar Kuchi, PhD:

Kiran is a Professor Department of Electrical Engineering IIT-Hyderabad (IITH) and Dean of Research. He also started WiSig Networks that has been incubated at IITH. He received PhD and MS degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington, TX.  His current projects include: Cloud radio, Heterogeneous networks (HeNets), Next generation wireless test-bed development.

Past completed projects: Single antenna interference cancellation (SAIC) GSM/EDGE receiver (Sponsored by Nokia Group/Renesas Inc.), and Random wireless networks (Sponsored by Intel USA).

References:

https://pcr.iith.ac.in/Kiriith-Issue-6,April,20215GandNext-GenCommunicationTechnologies.pdf

https://sites.google.com/a/iith.ac.in/kkuchi/home

https://www.wisig.com/about-products