Intel FlexRAN™ gets boost from AT&T; faces competition from Marvel, Qualcomm, and EdgeQ for Open RAN silicon
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.
EdgeQ Samples World’s 1st Software-Defined 5G Base Station-on-a-Chip
RAN growth slowed in 4Q-2021, but full year revenues rose to ~$40B – $45B; Open RAN market highlights
- 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
Deutsche Telekom demos end to end network slicing; plans ‘multivendor’ open RAN launch in 2023
DT and Ericsson recently demonstrated an impressive proof of concept implementation: they established connectivity with guaranteed quality of service (QoS) between Germany and Poland via 5G end-to-end network slicing. With an SD-WAN solution from Deutsche Telekom, the data connection can be flexibly controlled and managed via a customer portal. The solution ensures that different service parameters in the network can be operated across country borders. At the same time, network resources are flexibly allocated. This approach is being presented for the first time worldwide. It is particularly advantageous for global companies that operate latency-critical applications at different, international locations.
End-to-end network slicing, which requires a 5G SA core network, is a key enabler for unlocking 5G opportunities. It’s been highly touted to drive business model innovation and new use cases across various industry segments. 5G slicing will enable use cases that require specific resources and QoS levels. Globally operating enterprise are more and more seeing the need for uniform connectivity characteristics to serve their applications in different markets. Some of the latency-critical business applications that demand consistent international connectivity performance are related to broadcasting, logistics, and automotive telematics.
In this trial, the QoS connectivity was extended from Germany to Poland using a 5G slicing setup that is based on commercial grade Ericsson 5G Standalone (SA) radio and core network infrastructure and a Deutsche Telekom commercial SD-WAN solution. The home operator-controlled User Plane Function (UPF) is placed in Poland as the visited country and the entire setup is managed by an Ericsson orchestrator integrated with a Deutsche Telekom business support system via open TM Forum APIs. Combining 5G slicing and SD-WAN technology allows flexible connectivity establishment and control, while traffic breakout close to the application server in visited countries enables low latency.
According to Light Reading, Deutsche Telekom (DT) has already issued a request for quotation (RFQ) to Open RAN vendors and is currently selecting partners for a commercial rollout next year. NEC – a Japanese vendor of radio units (among other things)- and Mavenir -a U.S. developer of baseband software-were mentioned as Open RAN Town participants (and likely DT RFQ respondents). “It is a multivendor setup,” said DT’s Claudia Nemat.
However, there are obstacles that Open RAN must overcome to be widely deployed. In particular, energy efficiency. Deutsche Telekom, along with most other big operators, is determined to reduce its carbon footprint and slash energy bills. Open RAN “is less energy efficient than today’s RAN technology,” Ms. Nemat said. The use of x86 general-purpose microprocessors in virtualized, open RAN deployments seems to be responsible for this inefficiency.
“If you have an ASIC [application-specific integrated circuit] for baseband processing, it is always cheaper than using a general-purpose microprocessor like an Intel processor,” said Alex Choi, Deutsche Telekom’s head of strategy and technology innovation, two years ago.
One option is to use ASICs and other chips as hardware accelerators for more efficient baseband processing. Companies including Marvell, Nvidia and Qualcomm all have products in development for sale as merchant silicon in open RAN deployments. Nemat, noted a breakthroughs with Intel.
“We achieved a reduction of electricity consumption of around minus 30%. For us, that is a big step forward for commercial deployment.”
Light Reading’s Iain Morris, provided this assessment:
Even so, a commercial open RAN deployment involving companies like NEC and Mavenir is hard to imagine. Any widespread rollout of their technologies would mean swapping out equipment recently supplied by Ericsson or Huawei (DT’s current 5G network equipment vendors), unless Deutsche Telekom plans to run two parallel networks. Either option would be costly.
Far likelier is that a 2023 deployment will be very limited. Other operators including the UK’s BT and France’s Orange have talked about using open RAN initially for small cells – designed to provide a coverage boost in specific locations.
A private network for a factory is one possible example. Outside Germany, of course, there may be a bigger short-term opportunity in Deutsche Telekom markets where 5G has not been as widely deployed.
In late June 2021, Deutsche Telekom switched on its ‘O-RAN Town’ deployment in Neubrandenburg, Germany. O-RAN Town is a multi-vendor open RAN network that will deliver open RAN based 4G and 5G services across up to 25 sites. The first sites are now deployed and integrated into the live network of Telekom Germany. This includes Europe’s first integration of massive MIMO (mMIMO) radio units using O-RAN open fronthaul interfaces to connect to the virtualized RAN software.
Ms. Nemat said at the time, “Open RAN is about increasing flexibility, choice and reinvigorating our industry to bring in innovation for the benefit our customers. Switching on our O-RAN Town including massive MIMO is a pivotal moment on our journey to drive the development of open RAN as a competitive solution for macro deployment at scale. This is just the start. We will expand O-RAN Town over time with a diverse set of supplier partners to further develop our operational experience of high-performance multi-vendor open RAN.”
In November 2021, Deutsche Telekom announced it was taking the lead in a new Open lab to accelerate network disaggregation and Open RAN. The German Federal Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) is financing the Lab with 17 million Euros and that’s to be matched by approximately a 17 million Euro investment from a consortium under the leadership of Deutsche Telekom (DT).
The lab will furthermore be supported by and working closely with OCP (Open Compute Project), ONF (Open Networking Foundation), ONAP (Open Network Automation Platform), the O-RAN Alliance and the TIP (Telecom Infra Project). Partners and supporters together form the user forum, which is open for participation by other interested companies, especially SMEs, working on applications as well as equipment and development. As an open lab it is built for collaboration within the wider telecommunications community. The i14y Lab Berlin will be the central location and core node of satellite locations such as Düsseldorf and Munich. Other highlights:
- Testing and integrating components of disaggregated networks in the lab to accelerate time to market of open network technology for the multi-vendor network of the future.
- The lab has already started operations at DT Innovation Campus Winterfeldtstraße
- Important foundation for building a European and German ecosystem of vendors and system integrators
A recent Research Nester report predicts a market size of $21 billion for O-RAN in 2028.
KDDI claims world’s first 5G Standalone (SA) Open RAN site using Samsung vRAN and Fujitsu radio units
Japan’s KDDI is claiming to have turned on the world’s first commercial 5G Standalone (SA) Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) site, using equipment and software from Samsung Electronics and Fujitsu. KDDI used O-RAN Alliance compliant [1.] technology, including Samsung’s 5G virtualized CU (vCU) and virtualized DU (vDU) as well as Fujitsu’s radio units (MMU: Massive MIMO Units).
Note 1. O-RAN Alliance specifications are being used for RAN module interfaces that support interoperation between different Open RAN vendors’ equipment.
The first network site went live in Kawasaki, Kanagawa today. KDDI, together with its two partners, will deploy this Open RAN network in some parts of Japan and continue its deployment and development, embracing openness and virtualization in KDDI’s commercial network. Note that both Rakuten-Japan and Dish Network/Amazon AWS have promised 5G SA Open RAN but neither company seems close to deploying it.
Virtualization and O-RAN technology replaces dedicated hardware with software elements that can run on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers. This brings flexibility and agility to KDDI’s network, allowing the operator to offer enhanced mobile services to its users. KDDI says this architecture will deliver reliability, while accelerating deployment of Open RAN throughout Japan, including in rural areas. Meanwhile, 5G SA will deliver superior performance, higher speeds and lower latency and make possible advanced services/applications, such as network slicing, automation, service chaining and Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC).
Traditional RAN vs. Open RAN Configuration. Source: KDDI
Characteristics of this site:
This Open RAN site leverages fully-virtualized RAN software, provided by Samsung, that runs on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers. Furthermore, by pursuing an open network approach between radio units and baseband unit, KDDI used Samsung’s baseband and Fujitsu’s Massive MIMO Units, which are connected with an open interface.
- Fully-virtualized 5G RAN software can be swiftly deployed using existing hardware infrastructure, which brings greater flexibility in deployment. New 5G SA technologies―such as network slicing, Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) and others―powered by 5G vRAN, will deliver superior performance, higher speeds and lower latency, allowing KDDI users to experience a range of new next-generation services and immersive applications.
- Using an open interface between radio units and baseband unit, Open RAN not only ensures security and reliability but also enables operators to implement best-of-breed solutions from different partners and build an optimal network infrastructure for maximized performance.
- The virtualized network allows the use of general-purpose hardware (COTS servers) across the country, which will greatly increase deployment efficiencies. Additionally, by leveraging system automation, fully-virtualized RAN software can reduce deployment time, enabling swift nationwide expansion, including rural areas.
Comments from Kazuyuki Yoshimura, Chief Technology Officer, KDDI Corporation:
“Together with Samsung and Fujitsu, we are excited to successfully develop and turn on the world’s first commercial 5G SA Open RAN site powered by vRAN. Taking a big step, we look forward to continue leading network innovation and advancing our network capabilities, towards our vision of delivering cutting-edge 5G services to our customers.”
Comments from Woojune Kim, Executive Vice President, Head of Global Sales & Marketing, Networks Business at Samsung Electronics:
“Leveraging our industry-leading 5G capabilities, we are excited to mark another milestone with KDDI and Fujitsu. Samsung stands out for its leadership in 5G vRAN and Open RAN with wide-scale commercial deployment experiences across the globe. While KDDI and Samsung are at the forefront of network innovation, we look forward to expanding our collaboration towards 5G SA, to bring compelling 5G services to users.”
Note: Samsung released its first 5G vRAN portfolio in early 2021 following its blockbuster RAN deal with Verizon, which was the first operator to commercially deploy the new equipment. Samsung also gained a foothold in Vodafone’s plan to deploy 2,500 open RAN sites in the southwest of England and most of Wales. Samsung’s open RAN compliant vRAN hardware and software were previously deployed in 5G NSA commercial networks in Japan and Britain, but this is the first 5G SA deployment. We wonder if it is “cloud native?” Hah, hah, hah!
Comments from Shingo Mizuno, Corporate Executive Officer and Vice Head of System Platform Business (In charge of Network Business), Fujitsu Limited:
“The Open RAN-based ecosystem offers many exciting possibilities and this latest milestone with KDDI and Samsung demonstrates the innovative potential of next-generation mobile services with Massive MIMO Units. Fujitsu will continue to enhance this ecosystem, with the goal of providing advanced mobile services and contributing to the sustainable growth of our society.”
The companies will continue to strengthen virtualized and Open RAN leadership in this space, bringing additional value to customers and enterprises with 5G SA.
Addendum: As of December 31, 2021 there were only 21 known 5G SA eMBB networks commercially deployed.
5G SA eMBB Network
Rain (South Africa)
Launched in 2020
China Mobile Hong Kong
Launched in 2021
Telefónica O2 (Germany)
TPG Telecom (Australia)
SOURCE: Dave Bolan, Dell’Oro Group.
Samsung Electronics wins $6.6B wireless network equipment order from Verizon; Galaxy Book Flex 5G
Mobile Core Network (MCN) growth to slow due to slow roll-out of 5G SA networks
Juniper Networks, Vodafone and Parallel Wireless in RIC Open RAN Trial
Juniper Networks is working with Vodafone and Parallel Wireless, a pioneer in Open RAN solutions, conducting a multivendor RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) trial for “tenant-aware admission control” use cases. The trial, initially running in Vodafone’s test labs in Turkey and with plans to move into its test infrastructure, supports O-RAN interfaces and addresses the key business challenges faced by mobile operators around personalized user experience, viable revenue generation and reduction in both CAPEX and OPEX for 4G and 5G services.
The trial is based on an open, software-driven architecture that leverages virtualization to deliver more programmable, automated granular-by-user traffic management. The initial focus is on delivering tenant-aware admission control capability, enabling operators to personalize services and provide superior user experiences. Real-time tracking and enforcement of radio resources across the RAN enables mission-critical users – for example, hospitals and schools – to receive prioritized mobile data services delivery. This capability is enabled by Juniper’s rApp/xApp cloud-based software tools that manage network functions in near real-time, along with Parallel Wireless cloud-native Open RAN functions.
The trial’s design philosophy is focused on demonstrating the potential of enabling open, agile resource management and mobile data delivery in any software-driven RAN environment. This approach enables services and applications to be managed, optimized and mitigated automatically by the RAN, built on real-time data insights from its own performance.
All three organizations are active operators/contributors of the O-RAN ALLIANCE and the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), underlining their shared commitment to industry innovation and standards.
Juniper’s RIC solution is architected as an open platform supporting open interfaces on the north bound and south bound side, enabling easier integration with Open RAN partners in the ecosystem. Juniper’s RIC platform will also enable easy integration of third-party rApps/xApps, using UI-based onboarding and deployment tools coupled with flexibility to select between either network-based or SDK-based APIs (Application Programming Interfaces).
Parallel Wireless brings cloud-native Open RAN solutions – which are now integrated with the leading-edge RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) based on O-RAN ALLIANCE specifications from Juniper Networks, giving operators more choices to build the best-of-breed RAN.
In January 2022, Vodafone announced that it had teamed with Samsung Networks Europe to switch on the UK’s first Open RAN site to carry live 5G traffic, marking a milestone in the commercial deployment of Open RAN network architectures in Europe, with more than 2,500 additional sites to follow.
Source: The Fast Mode
“Vodafone has a clear vision that all mobile network radio infrastructure should be open – enabling rapid adoption of innovative services. We see this as a key stepping stone to rich innovation and collaboration, the only way that groundbreaking new use cases in 4G and 5G can be developed and cost-effectiveness maximized. In order to accelerate progress in this exciting journey, I am very pleased that Vodafone is hosting a lab and field trial for tenant-aware admission control using O-RAN interfaces, alongside an ecosystem of like-minded technology partners, including Juniper Networks and Parallel Wireless. By working together, we will be able to build smarter networks, better user experiences and drive stronger sustainability measures for B2B use cases.”
– Paco Martin, Head of Open RAN at Vodafone Group
“This multivendor trial at Vodafone has provided the perfect opportunity to demonstrate how Juniper’s RIC, and our focus on enabling seamless application portability, are able to unlock the true potential of Open RAN. By coupling our innovations with those of Parallel Wireless and Vodafone’s operational experience, we are able to achieve a real-world use case that can deliver value and better user experiences with improved economics for operators.”
– Constantine Polychronopoulos, VP, 5G & Telco Cloud at Juniper Networks
“Vodafone has been leading in Open RAN innovation since the early days. As the next stage of Open RAN adoption we are excited to partner with Vodafone and Juniper Networks, integrating our state-of-the-art cloud-native, O-RAN ALLIANCE compliant, Open RAN solutions with the leading edge RAN Intelligent Controller from Juniper. ”
– Keith Johnson, President at Parallel Wireless
Heavy Reading Comments about RIC:
According to Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown, wireless network operators this year will likely be testing RIC technology in the field. He doesn’t expect full-blown products until the end of this year at the earliest. Vendors in the space range from Juniper Networks to VMware to some open source offerings from the likes of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF).
RICs could eventually replace self-organizing networks (SON) in classic RAN architectures. RICs help control base stations from a variety of vendors. Specifically, they can support various dynamic networking features such as switching off radios during non-peak times to cut energy costs. As a result, RICs are key to Open RAN which facilitates the mix and match network elements/base station modules from different vendors, rather than being locked into a tightly integrated stack of components supplied by just one vendor.
RICs come in two flavors: near-real time RICs and non-real time RICS. Brown expects most of the early RIC deployments to be of the non-real time variety because those specifications are farther along and less tightly coupled with the control of baseband scheduling.
About Juniper Networks:
Juniper Networks is dedicated to dramatically simplifying network operations and driving superior experiences for end users. Our solutions deliver industry-leading insight, automation, security and AI to drive real business results. We believe that powering connections will bring us closer together while empowering us all to solve the world’s greatest challenges of well-being, sustainability and equality. Additional information can be found at Juniper Networks (www.juniper.net) or connect with Juniper on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
Juniper Networks, the Juniper Networks logo, Juniper, Junos, and other trademarks listed here are registered trademarks of Juniper Networks, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the United States and other countries. Other names may be trademarks of their respective owners.
Juniper to integrate RAN Intelligent Controller with Intel’s FlexRAN platform for Open RAN
YouTube: RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) – Unlocking the True Potential of O-RAN
Open RAN Solutions: Juniper Networks
Research Topic: What is a RAN Intelligent Controller?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Dell’Oro Group, Kenneth Research and Heavy Reading’s optimistic forecasts for Open RAN
O-RAN Alliance tries to allay concerns; Strand Consult disagrees!
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).
- 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 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.
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
Heavy Reading: How network operators will deploy Open RAN and cloud native vRAN
Heavy Reading conducted an operator survey in association with Quanta Cloud Technology (QCT) to explore how and why operators are likely to deploy Open RAN. The data was collected in November 2021 and includes North American, European and Asian operator respondents in roughly equal proportions.
The first question in the survey that asked about the business justification for Open RAN. Here’s the result:
The lead response is for “faster greater control of feature development” with 25%, just ahead of “increase vendor diversity” at 21%, and “new service and monetization opportunities” at 20%.
The absence of an overriding reason to pursue open RAN is consistent with previous Heavy Reading operator surveys. These results indicate the business case will be founded on an accumulation of benefits that will deliver value relative to a classic, single-vendor RAN. They also point to the view that open RAN has not yet found — or at least, has not yet proven — a compelling business justification and that this diversity of views reflects an ongoing search for a business case.
Note that cost savings at 6% of respondents, indicates lower cost is not really a business reason to deploy Open RAN. There are likely two explanations for this:
- Open RAN has a similar bill of materials to classic single-vendor RAN. Ericsson and Nokia say Open RAN is more expensive than integrated, single vendor RAN.
- Operators in leading markets will not compromise on user experience simply to save a small percentage on RAN equipment costs.
With respect to cloud native vRAN (RAN software that is deployed in containers and centrally orchestrated) the survey asked when operators plan to deploy a containerized Distributed Unit (DU) vRAN application in their commercial network. 21% of respondents said they are “deploying now,” and a further 34% “will deploy within 1 year.”
While this response this looks overly optimistic, containerized DU products are now available and are commercially deployed and operational. Heavy Reading expects deployment of this technology to scale quickly. So even if this data seems too optimistic on the timeline, it is a good indicator of sentiment among operators that are likely to already be positive on vRAN.
Network operators must deploy RAN software — either in virtual machines, containers or both — on cloud infrastructure. A key question is which software infrastructure platform to use?
The chart below shows three leading operator preferences:
For vRAN software suppliers and DU server vendors that want to help accelerate open vRAN deployments, the three main cloud environments to pre-integrate with appear to be Red Hat, Wind River and VMware.
These are well-known solutions in the telco cloud and core network, and it is logical operators will want to extend their existing telco cloud to the edge to support vRAN. An interesting third option also emerges from this data. Wind River, which offers cloud infrastructure software focused on smaller footprint edge devices that can be optimized for RAN applications, also scores highly at 31%. This is consistent with several Tier 1 operator vRAN deals that reference Wind River publicly.
To learn more about this Heavy Reading operator survey, register for the archived Light Reading webinar on Designing and Deploying Cloud Native Open RAN.
— Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading
A Red Hat survey found that communication service providers (CSPs) now realize the role and benefits of cloud-native network functions (CNFs) and container-based cloud platforms as the means to advance their infrastructures. Benefits include features and efficiency, automation, scalability, and flexibility that will help further lower overall costs. Respondents confirmed their rollout of 5G services would utilize container-based 5G infrastructure, with three-quarters of those respondents indicating the use of container-based platforms in over 25% of their networks by 2022.
In a recent report from Heavy Reading based on a survey of respondents from 77 CSPs, the steady uptick of service providers evolving their RAN has been significant, with the following observations:
50% of service providers have deployed a vRAN in over a quarter of their network compared to the fourth quarter of 2019, when only 35% of respondents had achieved the same rollout.
vRAN deployment has doubled in service provider 4G-only networks and vRAN in service provider 5G-only networks has increased by 66% since the survey in Q4 of 2019.
By the end of 2023 , the above numbers are expected to be flipped, with the majority of service providers deploying vRAN into both their 4G and 5G networks and not 4G alone.
As service providers’ experience with network transformation grows, they are embracing horizontal cloud platforms over vertically integrated solutions. The increased flexibility provided by containers, coupled with automation, can take full advantage of horizontal platforms.
A common cloud-native application platform deployed across any footprint and any cloud provides a simplified operational model and allows greater choice of CNFs. This is important to fit service providers’ business needs and to deploy and scale where needed, so they can make future additions and changes more easily. A Kuberenetes-based platform offers other direct benefits for RAN workloads, such as reduced latency, higher throughput and precision timing.
In summary, service providers are evolving their RAN to deliver new 5G services that are adaptable, scalable and efficient. Successful vRAN deployments will build upon a telco-grade container platform solution that takes automation and flexibility to the next level. With that, disaggregated vRAN architectures can be optimized to deliver the lowest latency and highest performance. This infrastructure needs to be a consistent cloud-native platform that can support multiple RAN functions and that spans the entire service provider network from edge to core to cloud.
Red Hat OpenShift is an application platform that not only boosts developer productivity but can orchestrate both containers and VMs in production environments. OpenShift helps simplify workflows and reduce overall total cost of ownership (TCO). As an answer to ever-changing marketplace demands, Red Hat’s extensive partner ecosystem provides choices to select software functions and hardware from multiple vendors, while accommodating present needs and anticipating those in the future.
Vodafone and Mavenir complete VoLTE call over a containerized Open RAN lab environment
Upstart network software provider Mavenir, announced today that it completed the first data and Voice over LTE (VoLTE) call across a containerized 4G small cell Open RAN solution in a Vodafone lab environment. The completed tests are the latest steps forward to delivering an open and vendor-interoperable 4G connectivity solution for small to medium-sized office locations.
Having first started work on a containerized indoor enterprise connectivity solution in January 2021, Vodafone has completed tests for an important stage of the technology roadmap. The plug-and-play small cell equipment can ensure comprehensive mobile coverage in every corner of the office. The solution will provide 4G coverage initially, making use of radio hardware from Sercomm and software from Mavenir (Open RAN). Containerization means that software can be seamlessly transferred between equipment, platforms, and applications. Wind River provided its Containers as a Service (CaaS) software, part of Wind River Studio.
This demonstration of a containerized solution is a major milestone in the evolution of connectivity equipment away from physical infrastructure to a digital cloud-based environment. Containerization provides greater flexibility for customers, but also significant benefits in terms of speed and cost of deployment.
Open RAN technology separates software from hardware, meaning more flexibility for mobile operators and customers. This approach aims to see many companies providing the components that make up a mobile network site, where previously one vendor would have delivered the whole solution. The technology is controversial, but accepted by many as a potential disruptor for the telecommunications industry. Vodafone claims to be one of the industry leaders in supporting the development of the Open RAN vendor ecosystem.
Whereas much of the focus for Open RAN has been directed towards network infrastructure deployment on mobile sites throughout the UK, the technology can be implemented in an enterprise environment to support local connectivity requirements. As an interoperable and standardized (there are no standards for Open RAN!) technology, Open RAN solutions can be integrated with little disruption in a “plug and play” manner, interoperable with other Open RAN compliant vendors.
Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer, Vodafone UK, said: “Open RAN is opening doors to simplified and intuitive connectivity solutions. For our wider network deployment strategy, Open RAN is enabling us to work with a wider pool of suppliers and to avoid vendor lock-in scenarios that might prevent us from taking advantage of the latest innovations. The same could be said for enterprise connectivity solutions.”
“From the moment Open RAN is deployed in an office environment, customers are no-longer locked into a single upgrade path. Working alongside Vodafone, customers can be more flexible in how connectivity solutions are adapted and upgraded as demands evolve in the future.”
Stefano Cantarelli, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Mavenir, said; “Cloud Native and Open Solutions are becoming the new reality of the mobile world, and these include Radio Access and its containerized implementation. Open vRAN is a very flexible architecture that can serve any type of segment and Mavenir is really pleased to work with Vodafone in the enterprise business and achieved another first together. It is an opportunity to show that automated and AI controlled systems will simplify life to business and industry.”
“Mavenir is delighted to partner with Vodafone in Open RAN and to work in the U.K. on their radio network transformation initiative, proving the extreme flexibility of Open vRAN,” Virtyt Koshi, SVP of Mavenir EMEA, said. “We are particularly proud in working in the field within the Vodafone commercial network and in the Newbury Open RAN Test and Verification lab, supporting the Vodafone effort to boost the ecosystem.”
Moving forward, Vodafone and Mavenir will focus on finalizing the packaging and automation of the solution before beginning trials with selected customers.
Vodafone and Mavenir create indoor OpenRAN solution for business customers
Vodafone partners with Mavenir to leverage Open RAN for in-building enterprise 4G
Picocom PC802 SoC: 1st 5G NR/LTE small cell SoC designed for Open RAN
5G open RAN semiconductor and software upstart Picocom has announced the PC802 SoC (system on a chip), which the company calls the world’s first 4G/5G device for use in small cells with integrated support for open RAN specifications (there are no Open RAN standards). It supports disaggregated 5G small cell platforms, including indoor residential, enterprise and industrial networks, neutral host networks and outdoor networks.
The PC802 is a purpose-designed PHY SoC for 5G NR/LTE small cell disaggregated and integrated RAN architectures that includes support for 4G. The SoC supports Open RAN specifications and interfaces with a layer 2/3 stack via the SCF FAPI interface over PCIe. The PC802 supports interfacing to Radio Units (O-RU) via the O-RAN Open Fronthaul (eCPRI) interface or directly to RFICs with a standardised JESD204B high-speed serial interface.
The PC802 SoC is optimized for disaggregated small cells. It employs the FAPI protocol (defined by the Small Cell Forum) to communicate with and provide physical layer services to the MAC. It has an integrated O-RAN Alliance Open Fronthaul interface (based on eCPRI) to connect and communicate with Open RAN (remote) radio units, as well as JESD204B interfaces to connect with commonly available radio transceivers.
The PC802 supports 3GPP 5GNR releases 15 and 16, with flexibility for future releases. The PC802 also supports simultaneous 5GNR/LTE mode, flexible multi-RAT, multi-carrier component configurations and Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) support.
“We believe we’ve hit the ‘sweet spot’ in addressing the need for optimized silicon to power Open RAN,” commented said Oliver Davies, VP of marketing at Picocom. “We are delighted with the pre-launch interest in PC802 and the positive feedback we’ve received on its specification. For successful deployments, it’s clear that Open RAN needs optimized silicon, and PC802 SoC delivers. We expect to see PC802 in end-products commencing field trials during 2022.”
◆Silicon runs Picocom’s 5GNR and LTE PHY (lower and upper) software
◆SCF FAPI interfaces
◆Ceva XC12 5G-optimised 1280-bit vector signal processors
◆RISC-V scalar processor clusters
◆Codecs: LDPC, Turbo and Polar
◆Fourier transforms: FFT, iFFT
◆Digital Front End (DFE)
◆O-RAN eCPRI Open Fronthaul
◆Secure on-chip boot capability
◆Debug and device monitoring
Picocom introduces the industry’s first 5G NR small cell system on chip designed for Open RAN
Picocom hits the ‘sweet spot’ with new small cell SoC for Open RAN