The EU has published a report on the cybersecurity of Open RAN, a 4G/5G (maybe even 2G?) network architecture the European Commission says will provide an alternative way of deploying the radio access part of 5G networks over the coming years, based on open interfaces. The EU noted that while Open RAN architectures create new opportunities in the marketplace, they also raise important security challenges, especially in the short term.
“It will be important for all participants to dedicate sufficient time and attention to mitigate such challenges, so that the promises of Open RAN can be realized,” the report said.
The report found that Open RAN could bring potential security opportunities, provided certain conditions are met. Namely, through greater interoperability among RAN components from different suppliers, Open RAN could allow greater diversification of suppliers within networks in the same geographic area. This could contribute to achieving the EU 5G Toolbox recommendation that each operator should have an appropriate multi-vendor strategy to avoid or limit any major dependency on a single supplier.
Open RAN could also help increase visibility of the network thanks to the use of open interfaces and standards, reduce human errors through greater automation, and increase flexibility through the use of virtualisation and cloud-based systems.
However, the Open RAN concept still lacks maturity, which means cybersecurity remains a significant challenge. Especially in the short term, by increasing the complexity of networks, Open RAN could exacerbate certain types of security risks, providing a larger attack surface and more entry points for malicious actors, giving rise to an increased risk of misconfiguration of networks and potential impacts on other network functions due to resource sharing.
The report added that technical specifications, such as those developed by the O-RAN Alliance, are not yet sufficiently secure by design. This means that Open RAN could lead to new or increased critical dependencies, for example in the area of components and cloud.
The EU recommended the use of regulatory powers to monitor large-scale Open RAN deployment plans from mobile operators and if needed, restrict, prohibit or impose specific requirements or conditions for the supply, large-scale deployment and operation of the Open RAN network equipment.
Technical controls such as authentication and authorization could be reinforced and a risk profile assessed for Open RAN providers, external service providers related to Open RAN, cloud service/infrastructure providers and system integrators. The EU added that including Open RAN components into the future 5G cybersecurity certification scheme, currently under development, should happen at the earliest possible stage.
Following up on the coordinated work already done at EU level to strengthen the security of 5G networks with the EU Toolbox on 5G Cybersecurity, Member States have analysed the security implications of Open RAN.
Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, said: “Our common priority and responsibility is to ensure the timely deployment of 5G networks in Europe, while ensuring they are secure. Open RAN architectures create new opportunities in the marketplace, but this report shows they also raise important security challenges, especially in the short term. It will be important for all participants to dedicate sufficient time and attention to mitigate such challenges, so that the promises of Open RAN can be realised.”
Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market, added: “With 5G network rollout across the EU, and our economies’ growing reliance on digital infrastructures, it is more important than ever to ensure a high level of security of our communication networks. That is what we did with the 5G cybersecurity toolbox. And that is what – together with the Member States – we do now on Open RAN with this new report. It is not up to public authorities to choose a technology. But it is our responsibility to assess the risks associated to individual technologies. This report shows that there are a number of opportunities with Open RAN but also significant security challenges that remain unaddressed and cannot be underestimated. Under no circumstances should the potential deployment in Europe’s 5G networks of Open RAN lead to new vulnerabilities.”
Guillaume Poupard, Director General of France’s National Cyber Security Agency (ANSSI), said: “After the EU Toolbox on 5G Cybersecurity, this report is another milestone in the NIS Cooperation Group’s effort to coordinate and mitigate the security risks of our 5G networks. This in-depth security analysis of Open RAN contributes to ensuring that our common approach keeps pace with new trends and related security challenges. We will continue our work to jointly address those challenges.”
Finally, a technology-neutral regulation to foster competition should be maintained., with EU and national funding for 5G and 6G research and innovation, so that EU players can compete on a level playing field.
The DoD, in collaboration with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) [1.] have launched the 5G Challenge Preliminary Event: RAN Subsystem Interoperability. This competition aims to accelerate the development and adoption of open interfaces, interoperable components, and multi-vendor solutions toward the development of an open 5G ecosystem.
Note 1. ITS, the Nation’s Spectrum and Communications Lab, supports the Department of Defense 5G Initiative through a combination of its subject matter experts in 5G and its research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) laboratory infrastructure in Boulder, Colorado, including the Advanced Communications Test Site at the Table Mountain Radio Quiet Zone.
“The Department is committed to supporting innovation efforts that accelerate the domestic development of 5G and Future G technologies. 5G is too critical a technology sector to relinquish to countries whose products and technologies are not aligned with our standards of privacy and security. We will continue our support of all necessary efforts to unleash innovation while developing secure 5G supply chains,” said Amanda Toman, Acting Principal Director, 5G-Future G.
“Increasing the resilience and security of our supply chain is at the heart of NTIA’s work to incentivize open and interoperable 5G networks and increase the diversity of suppliers in the 5G ecosystem,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator. “NTIA and ITS are excited to collaborate with the Department of Defense on the 5G Challenge because it reinforces our joint understanding that cost-effective, secure 5G networks are key to both national and economic security.”
Today, most wireless networks are operated by mobile network operators and composed of many vendor-specific proprietary solutions. Each discrete element typically contains custom, closed-source software and hardware. This industry dynamic increases costs, slows innovation, and reduces competition, often making security issues difficult to detect and resolve. The 5G Challenge aims to foster a large, vibrant, and diverse vendor community dedicated to advancing 5G interoperability towards true plug-and-play operation, and unleashing a new era of technological innovation based on this critical technology.
This 5G Challenge Preliminary Event: RAN Subsystem Interoperability will award up to $3,000,000 to participants who submit hardware and/or software solutions for any or all of the following 5G network subsystems, which must be compliant with the 3GPP Release 15 and O-RAN Alliance specifications: Distributed Unit (DU), Central Unit (CU), and Radio Unit (RU). Interoperability is open for applications through May 5, 2022. For applications and additional information on this 2022 contest, please visit www.challenge.gov.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), located within the Department of Commerce, is the Executive Branch agency that is principally responsible by law for advising the U.S. President on telecommunications and information policy issues. NTIA’s programs and policymaking focus largely on expanding broadband Internet access and adoption in America, expanding the use of spectrum by all users, and ensuring that the Internet remains an engine for continued innovation and economic growth.
The Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD(R&E) is the Chief Technology Officer of the Department of Defense. The USD(R&E) champions research, science, technology, engineering, and innovation to maintain the United States military’s technological advantage. Learn more at www.cto.mil, follow us on Twitter @DoDCTO, or visit us on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/ousdre.
Through disaggregation of the Radio Access Network (RAN) into functional blocks/modules and defining open interfaces between those modules, OpenRAN technology promises to allow newer, smaller players to sell into the 4G/5G equipment market. The intent is to offer more choices for cellular network operators who buy most of their gear from 4 or 5 big base station vendors.
Open RAN has been endorsed by 5G upstarts like Dish Network and Rakuten in Japan, but also by five big European carriers – Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia (TIM), Telefónica and Vodafone – which want to build an Open RAN ecosystem in Europe. AT&T has also expressed interest in the technology. However, there remains a lot of skepticism, especially for brownfield carriers.
On March 14th, Dish Network executives participated in a video conference with a several FCC officials to discuss the company’s plans to launch a nationwide 5G network using Open RAN technology. Present on behalf of DISH were Stephen Bye, Chief Commercial Officer; Marc Rouanne, Chief Network Officer; Jeffrey Blum, Executive Vice President, External and Legislative Affairs; Sidd Chenumolu, Vice President, Technology Development; Alison Minea, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs; William Beckwith, Director of Wireless Regulatory Affairs; Hadass Kogan, Director & Senior Counsel, Regulatory Affairs; and Michael Essington, Senior Manager, Public Policy.
According to a Dish filing, the FCC requested the meeting to learn more about how Dish plans to deploy OpenRAN, rather than traditional purpose built RAN equipment, to build their 5G cellular network.
Ahead of its June 14, 2022 buildout milestone, DISH is launching a first-of-its-kind, cloud native, virtualized O-RAN 5G network in several major metropolitan areas of the country. Because DISH is building a greenfield network, we have the flexibility to choose the best technology to enter the market. While legacy carriers built closed end-to-end networks, DISH chose O-RAN because, among other reasons, it offers lower capital and operating costs, and is more resilient, secure, and energy efficient. In cooperation with more than 30 technology partners, DISH will offer a real-world example of the benefits of O-RAN as our 5G network rolls out to customers this year.
If more American carriers see the benefits of O-RAN and are able to adopt it as their networks evolve, the United States will be a stronger competitor in the global market. O-RAN is a game changer, among reasons, because:
- O-RAN networks increase vendor diversity
- O-RAN enhances spectrum utilization and enables network slicing
- O-RAN supports national security and cybersecurity objectives
- O-RAN networks are more secure and more agileO-RAN networks are more secure and more agile
In February 2021, the FCC published an OpenRAN Notice of Inquiry, stating:
Some parties assert that open radio access networks (Open RAN) are a potential path to drive 5G innovation, with industry proponents arguing that it could provide opportunities for more secure networks, foster greater vendor diversity, allow for more flexible network architectures, lower capital and operating expenses, and lead to new services tailored to unique use cases and consumer needs; others contend that Open RAN is still in its most formative stages, and that while promising, significant work remains before the benefits of the concept can fully be realized.
This Notice of Inquiry seeks input on the status of Open RAN and virtualized network environments: where the technology is today and what steps are required to deploy Open RAN networks broadly and at scale. It also seeks comment on whether and, if so, how deployment of Open RAN-compliant networks could further the Commission’s policy goals and statutory obligations, advance legislative priorities, and benefit American consumers by making state-of-the-art wireless broadband available more quickly and to more people in more parts of the country.
The financial analysts at New Street Research, say that U.S. government legislation could pave the way for “$1.5 billion for the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund to deploy Open RAN equipment to spur movement toward open architecture, software-based wireless technologies and funding innovative leap-ahead technologies in the US mobile broadband market.”
The analysts added, “That provision might be of particular value to Dish, which is building out its network based on that technology.”
by Stefan Pongratz, VP at Dell’Oro Group
Open RAN ended 2021 on a solid footing. Preliminary estimates suggest that total Open RAN revenues—including O-RAN and OpenRAN radios and baseband—more than doubled for the full year 2021, ending at a much higher level than had been expected going into the year. Adoption has been mixed, however. In this blog, we review three Open RAN-related topics: (1) a recap of 2021, (2) Mobile World Congress (MWC) takeaways, and (3) expectations for 2022.
Looking back to the outlook we outlined a year ago, full-year Open RAN revenues accelerated at a faster pace than we originally expected. This gap in the output ramp is primarily the result of higher prices. LTE and 5G macro volumes were fairly consistent with expectations, but the revenue per Open RAN base stations was higher than we modeled going into 2021, especially with regard to brownfield networks. Asymmetric investment patterns between the radio and the baseband also contributed to the divergence, though this is expected to normalize as deployments increase. In addition, we underestimated the 5G price points with some of the configurations in both the Japanese and US markets.
Not surprisingly, the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region dominated the Open RAN market in 2021, supported by large-scale greenfield OpenRAN and brownfield O-RAN deployments in Japan.
From a technology perspective, LTE dominated the revenue mix initially but 5G NR is now powering the majority of investments, reflecting progress both in APAC and North America.
Mobile World Congress (MWC) Barcelona 2022:
Open RAN revenues are coming in ahead of schedule, bolstering the narrative that operators want open interfaces. Meanwhile, the progress of the technology, especially with some of the non-traditional or non-top 5 RAN suppliers has perhaps not advanced at the same pace. This, taken together with the fact that the bulk of the share movements in the RAN market is confined to traditional suppliers, is resulting in some concerns about the technology gap between the traditional RAN and emerging suppliers. A preliminary assessment of Open RAN-related radio and baseband system, component, and partnership announcements at the MWC 2022 suggests this was a mixed bag, with some suppliers announcing major portfolio enhancements.
Among the announcements that most stood out is the one relating to Mavenir’s OpenBeam radio platform. After focusing initially on software and vRAN, Mavenir decided the best way to accelerate the O-RAN ecosystem is to expand its own scope to include a broad radio portfolio. The recently announced OpenBeam family includes multiple O-RAN 7.2 macro and micro radio products supporting mmWave, sub 6 GHz Massive MIMO, and sub 6 GHz Non-Massive MIMO.
NEC announced a major expansion of its O-RAN portfolio, adding 18 new O-RUs, covering both Massive MIMO and non-Massive MIMO (4T4R, 8T8R, 32T32R, 64T64R). NEC also recently announced its intention to acquire Blue Danube.
Another major announcement was Rakuten Symphony’s entry into the Massive MIMO radio market. Rakuten Symphony is working with Qualcomm, with the objective of having a commercial Massive MIMO product ready by the end of 2023.
Recent Massive MIMO announcements should help to dispel the premise that the O-RAN architecture is not ideal for wide-band sub-6 GHz Massive MIMO deployments. We are still catching up on briefings, so it is possible that we missed some updates. But for now, we believe there are six non-top 5 RAN suppliers with commercial or upcoming O-RAN Sub-6 GHz Massive MIMO GA: Airspan, Fujitsu, Mavenir, NEC, Rakuten Symphony, and Saankhya Labs.
Putting things into the appropriate perspective, we estimate that there are more than 20 suppliers with commercial or pending O-RAN radio products, most prominently: Acceleran*, Airspan, Askey*, Baicells*, Benetel*, BLiNQ*, Blue Danube, Comba, CommScope*, Corning*, Ericsson, Fairwaves, Fujitsu, JMA*, KMW, Mavenir, MTI, NEC, Nokia, Parallel Wireless, Rakuten Symphony, Saankhya Labs, Samsung, STL, and Verana Networks* (with the asterisk at the end of a name indicating small cell only).
The asymmetric progress between basic and advanced radios can be partially attributed to the power, energy, and capex tradeoffs between typical GPP architectures and highly optimized baseband using dedicated silicon. As we discussed in a recent vRAN blog, both traditional and new macro baseband component suppliers—including Marvell, Intel, Qualcomm, and Xilinx—announced new solutions and partnerships at the MWC Barcelona 2022 event, promising to close the gap. Dell and Marvell’s new open RAN accelerator card offers performance parity with traditional RAN systems, while Qualcomm and HPE have announced a new accelerator card that will allegedly reduce operator TCO by 60%.
Encouraged by the current state of the market, we have revised our Open RAN outlook upward for 2022, to reflect the higher baseline. After more than doubling in 2021, the relative growth rates are expected to slow somewhat, as more challenging comparisons with some of the larger deployments weigh on the market. Even with the upward short-term adjustments, we are not making any changes at this time to the long-term forecast. Open RAN is still projected to approach 15% of total RAN by 2026.
In summary, although operators want greater openness in the RAN, there is still much work ahead to realize the broader Open RAN vision, including not just open interfaces but also improved supplier diversity. Recent Open RAN activities—taken together with the MWC announcements—will help to ameliorate some of these concerns about the technology readiness, though clearly not all. Nonetheless, MWC was a step in the right direction. The continued transition from PowerPoint to trials and live networks over the next year should yield a fuller picture.
“Following twenty years of average macro base station price declines in the 5% to 10% range, we are now modeling RAN [radio access network] prices to increase, reflecting a wide range of factors,” Stefan Pongratz, an analyst at research and consulting firm Dell’Oro Group, wrote in response to questions from Light Reading. “In addition to the changing vendor landscape and regional aspects coming into play with China’s overall share expected to decline going forward, we have also assumed there will be some COGS [cost of goods sold] inflation due to supply-demand mismatches, though the ability for everyone to pass this on [to their customers] remains limited.”
About the Author:
Stefan Pongratz joined Dell’Oro Group in 2010 and is responsible for the firm’s Mobile RAN market and Telecom Capex research programs. While at the firm, Mr. Pongratz has expanded the RAN research and authored multiple Advanced Research Reports to ensure the program is evolving to address new RAN technologies and opportunities including small cells, 5G, Open RAN, Massive MIMO, mmWave, IoT, private wireless, and CBRS. He built the Telecom Capex coverage detailing revenues and investments of over 50 carriers worldwide.
Africa’s largest mobile network operator MTN Group and Rakuten Symphony signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to run live 4G and 5G OpenRAN Proof of Concept (PoC) trials in South Africa, Nigeria and Liberia using the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP). The trials will start in 2022 and combine RCP OpenRAN equipment with advanced automation and autonomous network capabilities. The products are currently deployed by Rakuten Mobile in Japan and include cloud orchestration, zero-touch provisioning and automation of radio site commissioning and network integration.
The trials will enable the launch of new services more quickly, cost-effectively and seamlessly, MTN said. The mobile operator and Rakuten Symphony will be collaborating with systems integrators Accenture and Tech Mahindra to conduct the trials in the three countries.
“We are pleased to announce our partnership with Rakuten Symphony to deploy live 4G and 5G Open RAN trials across South Africa, Nigeria and Liberia. In line with our belief that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life, we are committed to actively driving the rapid expansion of affordable 4G and 5G coverage across markets in Africa,” said Mazen Mroue, MTN Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer. “We have announced our support towards the deployment of Open RAN technology in 2021 to modernize our radio access network footprint. Through this partnership we hope to target innovation and cost efficiencies that will enable us to continue delivering an exceptional customer experience.”
The solutions, currently deployed by Rakuten Mobile in Japan, include cloud orchestration, Zero-Touch Provisioning (ZTP) and automation of radio site commissioning and network integration.
Image – left to right: Amith Maharaj, MTN Group Executive, Network Planning and Design; Tareq Amin, CEO Rakuten Symphony; Rabih Dabboussi, Chief Revenue Officer, Rakuten Symphony.
“We’re excited to take this next step in our partnership with MTN,” said Rabih Dabboussi, Chief Revenue Officer of Rakuten Symphony. “This PoC will demonstrate how one of the world’s top-tier brownfield mobile operators can utilize Rakuten Symphony’s network automation and orchestration solutions for cost-effective network transformation and timely deployment of next-generation network services to their customers across Africa.”
Rakuten Mobile made a full-scale launch of commercial services on the world’s first fully virtualized cloud-native mobile network in 2020 in Japan, and launched Rakuten Symphony in 2021 to bring its innovations to other operators. Rakuten Symphony brings together Rakuten’s telco products, services and systems under a single banner to offer 4G and 5G infrastructure and platforms to customers worldwide.
MTN has already been testing open RAN equipment in several markets and is an active member of the Telecom Infra Project. The network operator announced several other Open RAN suppliers last year which were: Altiostar, Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, Tech Mahindra and Voyage.
About the MTN Group:
Launched in 1994, the MTN Group is a leading emerging market operator with a clear vision to lead the delivery of a bold new digital world to our customers. We are inspired by our belief that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life. The MTN Group is listed on the JSE Securities Exchange in South Africa under the share code ‘MTN’. Our strategy is Ambition 2025: Leading digital solutions for Africa’s progress.
About Rakuten Symphony:
Rakuten Symphony is reimagining telecom, changing supply chain norms and disrupting outmoded thinking that threatens the industry’s pursuit of rapid innovation and growth. Based on proven modern infrastructure practices, its open interface platforms make it possible to launch and operate advanced mobile services in a fraction of the time and cost of conventional approaches, with no compromise to network quality or security. Rakuten Symphony has headquarters in Japan and local presence in the United States, Singapore, India, Europe and the Middle East Africa region.
Telefónica Germany and NEC Corporation announced their successful collaboration in launching the first Open and virtual RAN architecture-based small cells in Germany. The service has initially launched in the city center of Munich to enhance the customer experience by providing increased capacity to the existing mobile network in this dense, urban area. NEC serves as the prime system integrator in the four countries of Telefónica S.A. and NEC’s program to explore ways to apply Open RAN in various geographies (urban, sub-urban, rural) and use cases. Telefónica Germany had previously said it planned to deploy pure 5G Open RAN mini-radio cells in Munich later this year.
In this German deployment, the flexibility of Open RAN is leveraged through the use of small cells to improve capacity in dense, urban areas. One of the key advantages of Open RAN over a traditional architecture is that it allows wider choice of vendor options. NEC integrated a multi-vendor architecture that includes Airspan Networks* unique Airspeed plug-and-play solution and Rakuten Symphony’s Open vRAN software for O2 / Telefónica Germany’s small cells to complement the existing multi-vendor based macro cells in its network.
The adoption of Open RAN small cells combined with macro cells will pave the way for 5G network densification. This will be especially beneficial in Germany, where multiple industries and enterprises are seeking ways to utilize cellular service functionalities in a particular area or in shared physical spaces.
Source: Telecom Infra Project
O2 / Telefónica Germany and NEC will continue their collaboration leveraging innovative Open RAN technologies, as well as automation, to validate and deploy advanced networks that efficiently deliver superior customer experiences in the 5G era, with collaboration from key partners.
“We are proud to have launched Germany’s first small cells built on innovative Open RAN technologies that help to complete the delivery of granular, high-quality connectivity in dense urban areas,” said Matthias Sauder, Director Mobile Access & Transport at O2 / Telefónica Germany. “NEC became our partner in this innovative project, with its underlying technological background and experiences of Open RAN technologies.”
“The potential of Open RAN technologies in the 5G era is infinite,” said Shigeru Okuya, Senior Vice President, NEC Corporation. “NEC is honored to be the strategic partner to O2 / Telefónica Germany, jointly leading the industry with practical and effective use cases that prove the value of Open RAN.”
Germany seems to be a focal point for OpenRAN deployments. For example, greenfield operator 1 & 1 is deploying a fully-virtualized, Open RAN mobile network built by Rakuten Symphony. That partnership began in the fourth quarter of 2021.
At Mobile World Congress this week, Vodafone announced that it plans to use OpenRAN in 30 percent of its masts in Europe – which includes Germany, of course – by 2030. Last November it emerged that it is working with Nokia and network software provider Mavenir to transform Plauen in Germany into a so-called ‘OpenRAN city’ that will be a live testbed for new OpenRAN-based products.
Deutsche Telekom is also a big fan of OpenRAN. Last June it claimed Europe’s first live OpenRAN deployment in Neubrandenburg, which has been dubbed ‘O-RAN Town’. It has partnered with a broad range of suppliers, including NEC, Fujitsu, Dell, Intel, Mavenir and SuperMicro.
Last December, semiconductor/SoC start-up Picocom made headlines in the Open RAN community by releasing the “industrt’s first” 5G NR small cell SoC for Open RAN. This new product, dubbed the PC802, is described as PHY SoC for 5G NR and LTE small cell decentralized and integrated RAN architectures, including support for leading Open RAN specifications. The PC802 allows for interfacing to radio units using either the O-RAN Open Fronthaul eCPRI interface or a JESD204B high-speed serial interface. Optimized explicitly for decentralized small cells, the PC082 employs a FAPI protocol to allow communication and physical layer services to the MAC.
OpenRAN has been a recurring topic at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, with Mavenir, Qualcomm, and Rakuten Symphony, etc. all making product pitches. However, it remains to be seen if Open RAN will actually be able to deliver on its promise of mix and match network modules and lower the cost of network deployment with the performance, security and reliability that network operators must provide to their customers.
Andrew Wooden of telecoms.com talked with Mavenir’s SVP of business development John Baker and CMO Stefano Cantarelli to gauge how industry is feeling towards OpenRAN. Here are a few quotes:
“Clearly the (OpenRAN) train has left the station, there’s a lot of buzz about OpenRAN – it’s back to the haves and have nots,” Baker told us. “I see a lot of interest from network operators and a lot of interest from the component suppliers. But on the other side of it, about [Nokia’s recent statement about OpenRAN] – they’re full of it. Because they’re a startup in OpenRAN themselves but are not doing anything. They’re trying to pass on a message that the OpenRAN community is confused, that there are no real OpenRAN players out there, and they’re trying to position themselves as the real OpenRAN player. Digging underneath that, we’re having to call out the Nokia’s and Ericsson’s for confusing the story and trying to keep the confusion running around the marketplace, about the status of OpenRAN.”
“Ericsson has been clear right up front that [they’re] not going to participate in OpenRAN. They name their products as Cloud RAN but you can’t mix and match, so they don’t they don’t meet the OpenRAN requirements. I stand very firm that unless you’ve got two suppliers interworked, then you haven’t got OpenRAN.” Of course, this author agrees 100%!
Regarding Nokia, Baker said: “We’ve been asking for the last two years, every month almost, we’re ready to interwork, when are you ready? And they never get there. So our view is Nokia doesn’t have anything, they’re just trying to protect an old silicon strategy. And that’s their problem. They’ve had two failed attempts, in my opinion, of their silicon strategy – first time they got it completely wrong. Second time they got it too late for the industry because software is now replacing where they are with silicon. I think at the end of the day those two logos are going to disappear in the distance.”
Cantarelli added: “I think Ericsson and Nokia are not stupid. They know OpenRAN is the future, it’s just at the beginning they didn’t think about it, and now they’re a bit late. So they’re protecting their legacy. And they’re waiting for when they’re going to be ready, so it’s purely a delaying technique.”
Some observers think OpenRAN is immediate, and of singular importance, but others don’t think it will be as disruptive as that, at least not right now. This author is in the latter camp. We’ve explained why many times why: without implementation standards there is no interoperability!
Vodafone will use OpenRAN technology in 30% of its masts across Europe by 2030, said Johan Wibergh, Vodafone Group Chief Technology Officer, in a speech at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2022 in Barcelona.
Around 30,000 Vodafone cell sites across Europe will eventually use OpenRAN, he said, with rural areas the first to benefit from the new 4G and 5G masts that use the more flexible radio technology.
When the roll-out reaches cities, the equipment from any existing 5G masts being replaced will then be reused elsewhere to reduce unnecessary wastage, he said.
Vodafone has been one of the key drivers behind the development and use of OpenRAN, building one of the first-ever live OpenRAN masts in Wales. This was followed by the construction of OpenRAN masts in Cornwall, as well as the UK’s first 5G OpenRAN site.
Earlier this week, Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read addressed MWC 2022 attendees in a keynote speech, highlighting the challenges and opportunities facing the mobile industry. Among them are the following:
Europe needs to be digital to remain globally competitive and maintain its leadership role in key sectors such as automotive, aerospace, defence, and agriculture. The regions that have 5G first, will be the regions that innovate fastest.
Yet, at current rates, it will take until at least the end of the decade, for Europe to match the transformational “full 5G experience” that China will already have achieved this year. If we look at 5G population coverage around the world – South Korea is over 90%, China 60%, USA 45%, and Europe under 10% – and with Africa hardly even at the starting line. Europe will only catch up if we reverse the ill-health and hyper-fragmentation of our sector. We must have local scale to close the investment gap. Otherwise, we will be the passive by-stander of the new tech order.
Local scale is needed to close the investment gap and ensure we can deploy 5G at pace. Regional scale is needed to close the digitalisation gap. The combination of local and regional scale ensures our economies and societies can enjoy the full benefits of digital innovation and industrialisation.
We have all seen the impact of global digital platforms. Platforms that change the way we conduct our daily lives. Vodafone continues to invest in regional platforms – let me just give you a few examples. In Europe we created our IoT platform which connects more than 140m devices, across 180 countries. The SIM based IoT market has tripled in the last five years, – and in the next 5 years, will hit 5bn connections. 62% of Europe’s leading automotive brands rely on Vodafone IOT. And with that scale, we are able to evolve from the “Internet of Things” to the “Economy of Things.”
Dell’Oro Group estimates the RAN market is currently generating between $40 billion and $45 billion in annual revenues. The market research firm forecasts that Open RAN will account for 15% of sales in 2026. Research & Markets is more optimistic. They say the Open RAN Market will hit $32 billion in revenues by 2030 with a growth rate of 42% for the forecast period between 2022 and 2030.
As the undisputed leader of microprocessors for compute servers, it’s no surprise that most of the new Open RAN and virtual RAN (vRAN) deployments use Intel Xeon processors and FlexRAN™ software stack inside the baseband processing modules. FlexRAN™ is a vRAN reference architecture for virtualized cloud-enabled radio access networks.
The hardware for FlexRAN™ includes: Intel® Xeon® CPUs 3rd generation Intel® Xeon® Scalable processor (formerly code named Ice Lake scalable processor), Intel® Forward Error Correction Device (Intel® FEC Device), Mount Bryce (FEC accelerator), Network Interface Cards – Intel® Ethernet Controller E810 (code name Columbiaville). Intel says there are now over 100 FlexRAN™ licensees worldwide as per these charts:
A short video on the FlexRAN™ reference architecture is here.
FlexRAN™ got a big boost this week from AT&T. In a February 24, 2022 blog post titled “Cloudifying 5G with an Elastic RAN,” Gordon Mansfield, AT&T VP Mobility Access & Architecture said that “AT&T and Intel had co-developed an industry-leading advanced RAN pooling technology freeing 5G radios from the limitations of dedicated base stations, while enabling more efficient, resilient, and green 5G networks. DU-pooling will eventually be usable by the entire 5G operator community to drive the telecom industry’s goals of green and efficient wireless networks forward.”
DU pooling technology was made possible by combining AT&T’s deep knowledge of Open RAN technologies as one of the co-founders of the O-RAN Alliance with Intel’s expertise in general purpose processors and software-based RAN through its FlexRAN™ software stack running on Intel 3rd generation Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors. The open standards for communications between radios and DUs that were published by O-RAN enabled its development, and the result is a technology demonstrator implemented on FlexRAN™ software.
Intel is now facing new Open RAN competition from several semiconductor companies.
Marvell has just unveiled a new accelerator card that will slot into a Dell compute server (which uses x86 processors). Based on a system called “inline” acceleration, it is designed to do baseband PHY layer processing and do it more efficiently than x86 processors. A Marvell representative claims it will boost open RAN performance and support a move “away from Intel.” Heavy Reading’s Simon Stanley (see below) was impressed. “This is a significant investment by Dell in open RAN and vRAN and a great boost for Marvell and the inline approach,” he said.
Qualcomm, which licenses RISC processors designed by UK-based ARM, has teamed up with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) on the X100 5G RAN accelerator card. Like Marvel’s offering, it also uses inline acceleration and works – by “offloading server CPUs [central processing units] from compute-intensive 5G baseband processing.”
There is also EdgeQ which is sampling a “Base Station on a Chip” which is targeted at Open RAN and private 5G markets. Three years in the making, EdgeQ has been collaborating with market-leading wireless infrastructure customers to architect a highly optimized 5G baseband, networking, compute and AI inference system-on-a-chip. By coupling a highly integrated silicon with a production-ready 5G PHY software, EdgeQ uniquely enables a frictionless operating model where customers can deploy all key functionalities and critical algorithms of the radio access network such as beamforming, channel estimation, massive MIMO and interference cancellation out of the box.
For customers looking to engineer value-adds into their 5G RAN designs, the EdgeQ PHY layer is completely programmable and extensible. Customers can leverage an extendable nFAPI interface to add their custom extensions for 5G services to target the broad variety of 5G applications spanning Industry 4.0 to campus networks and fixed wireless to telco-grade macro cells. As an industry first, the EdgeQ 5G platform holistically addresses the pain point of deploying 5G PHY and MAC software layers, but with an open framework that enables a rich ecosystem of L2/L3 software partners.
The anticipated product launches will be welcomed by network operators backing Open RAN. Several of them have held off making investments in the technology, partly out of concern about energy efficiency and performance in busy urban areas. Scott Petty, Vodafone’s chief digital officer, has complained that Open RAN vendors will not look competitive equipped with only x86 processors. “Now they need to deliver, but it will require some dedicated silicon. It won’t be Intel chips,” he told Light Reading in late 2021.
Inline vs Lookaside Acceleration:
While Marvell and Qualcomm are promoting the “inline” acceleration concept, Intel is using an alternative form of acceleration called “lookaside,” which continues to rely heavily on the x86 processor, offloading some but not all PHY layer functions. This week, Intel announced its own product refresh based on Sapphire Rapids, the codename for its next-generation server processors.
Simon Stanley, an analyst at large for Heavy Reading (owned by Informa), said there are two key innovations. The first involves making signal-processing tweaks to the Sapphire Rapids core to speed up the performance of FlexRAN™, Intel’s baseband software stack. Speaking on a video call with reporters, Dan Rodriguez, the general manager of Intel’s network platforms group, claimed a two-fold capacity gain from the changes. “In the virtual RAN and open RAN world, the control, packet and signal processing are all done on Xeon and that is what FlexRAN enables,” he said.
The other innovation is the promise of integrated acceleration in future Sapphire Rapids processors. Sachin Katti, who works as chief technology officer for Intel’s network and edge group, said this would combine the benefits of inline acceleration with the flexibility of x86. That is preferable, he insisted, to any solution “that shoves an entire PHY layer into an inflexible hardware accelerator,” a clear knock at inline rivals such as Marvell and Qualcomm. Despite Katti’s reference to inline acceleration, Stanley does not think it is Intel’s focus. “None of this rules out an inline acceleration solution, but it does not seem to be part of the core approach,” he told Light Reading. “The key strategy is to add maximum value to Xeon Scalable processors and enable external acceleration where needed to achieve performance goals.”
Both inline and lookaside involve trade-offs. Inline’s backers have promised PHY layer software alternatives, but Intel has a major head start with FlexRAN™, which it began developing in 2010. That means lookaside may be a lot more straightforward. “The processor is in control of everything that goes on,” said Stanley during a previous conversation with Light Reading. “It is essentially the same software and makes life very easy.”
Larger network operators seemed more enthusiastic about inline during a Heavy Reading survey last year. By cutting out the processor, it would reduce latency, a measure of the delay that occurs when signals are sent over the network. That could also weaken Intel, reducing power needs and allowing companies to use less costly CPUs. “If you use inline, you probably need a less powerful processor and less expensive server platform, which is not necessarily something Intel wants to promote,” Stanley said last year.
- Global RAN rankings did not change with Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, ZTE, and Samsung leading the full year 2021 market.
- Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, and Samsung lead outside of China while Huawei and ZTE continue to dominate the Chinese RAN market.
- RAN revenue shares are changing with Ericsson and Samsung gaining share outside of China.
- Huawei and Nokia’s RAN revenue shares declined outside of China.
- Relative near-term projections have been revised upward – total RAN revenues are now projected to grow 5 percent in 2022.
Open RAN Market – Highlights
- While 5G offers superior performance over 4G, both will coexist comfortably into the 2030s as the bedrock of next-generation mobile networks. There are three perspectives that help to underline this point. Firstly, unlike voice-oriented 2G and 3G (which were primarily circuit-switched networks with varying attempts to accommodate packet-switching principles), 4G is a fully packet-switched network optimized for data services. 5G builds on this packet switching capability. Therefore, 4G and 5G networks can coexist for a long while because the transition from 4G to 5G does not imply or require a paradigm shift in the philosophy of the underlying technology. 5G is expected to dominate the OPEN RAN market with $22B TAM in 2030 with a growth rate of 52% as compared to a 4G growth rate of 31% between 2022 and 2030
- Within OPEN RAN radio unit (RU), Small cells and macrocells are likely to contribute $7.5B and $2.4B TAM by 2030 respectively. It is going to be a huge growth of 46% from the current market size of $327M for such cells in the OPEN RAN market
- The sub-6GHz frequency band is going to lead the market with a 70% share for OPEN RAN although the mmWave frequency band will have a higher CAGR of 67% as compared to 37% CAGR of Sub-6GHz. Most focus has been on the 3.5 GHz range (i.e., 3.3-3.8 GHz) to support initial 5G launches, followed by mmWave awards in the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands. In the longer term, about 6GHz of total bandwidth is expected for each country across two to three different bands
- Enterprises are adopting network technologies such as private 5G networks and small cells at a rapid rate to meet business-critical requirements. That’s why public OPEN RAN is expected to have the majority share of round ~95% as compared to the small market for the private segment
- At present, it is relatively easy for greenfield service providers to adopt 5G open RAN interfaces and architectures and it is extremely difficult for brownfield operators who have already widely deployed 4G. One of the main challenges for brownfield operators is the lack of interoperability available when using legacy RAN interfaces with an open RAN solution. Still, Mobile network operators (MNOs) throughout the world, including many brownfield networks, are now trialling and deploying Open RAN and this trend is expected to grow with time to have a larger share of brownfield deployments
- Asia Pacific is expected to dominate the OPEN RAN market with nearly 35% share in 2030. OPEN RAN market in the Asia Pacific is expected to reach USD 11.5 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 34% between 2022 and 2030. Japan is going to drive this market in the Asia Pacific although China will emerge as a leader in this region by 2030. North America and Europe are expected to have a higher growth rate of more than 45% although their share will be around 31% and 26% respectively in 2030