When seeking radio access network vendors, operators usually had limited options; with Open RAN and the evolution of connectivity, there is now a diverse ecosystem of RAN providers. Open RAN has become fundamental for the global deployment of 5G.
Telecom Infra Project is a global community of service providers, technology partners and system integrators working to accelerate the development and deployment of Open RAN. TIP participants include Intel, Meta, Vodafone, Airtel, China Unicom, NTT and Telefonica.
TechRepublic spoke to TIP to gain insight into the challenges and best strategies for 5G Open RAN infrastructure and what business leaders should focus on.
The shift in the connectivity industry
TIP explained that breaking away from the business models that have dominated the connectivity industry for decades implies a significant shift. Historically, wireless systems have been closed and controlled by a single vendor, but the industry must pivot from competition to collaboration and open multi-vendor markets.
“The strength of our community lies in the recognition and commitment from all parts of the industry that it is only through collaboration that we can implement the change required to sustainably meet the exponential demand for connectivity and bring everyone into the digital economy,” TIP explained. “The more we work together, the more we can accelerate the pace of innovation.”
“This isn’t just limited to companies; we need to be aligned with policymakers and other industry organizations that share our vision and are working to accelerate disaggregation and innovation,” a TIP spokesperson concluded.
SEE: Mobile industry accelerates Open RAN to meet 5G global demands at FYUZ 2022
“In-line with governments’ objectives to ensure fast, secure, reliable and ubiquitous connectivity, TIP’s solutions play a key role in avoiding industry fragmentation and accelerating commercial deployments,” a TIP representative said.
TIP said that merging the industry and aligning prioritized requirements into central technical roadmaps is the first step of the TIP end-to-end process. Under TIP Project Groups, the organization leads the way in technology prioritization. “This framework eliminates the need for extensive third-party integration or in-house testing, lowering the barriers to market entry and providing a significantly quicker route to market for innovation,” TIP added.
Benefits and challenges of Open RAN
More companies providing RAN services translates to healthy market competition and additional options for operators. Plus, this enriched environment drives innovation, such as the increased use of AI and vRAN, which is switching hardware network components with virtual machines in the cloud.
SEE: The benefits of Open RAN (TechRepublic)
But despite its many benefits, Open RAN has challenges. Standardization, achieving widespread adoption, tech support difficulties, system integration problems and security risks have become top priorities.
TIP highlighted two additional critical barriers inhibiting the widespread adoption of Open RAN: the lack of mobile network operators purchasing confidence and the supply chain inefficiencies in the new disaggregated, multi-vendor environment.
How to increase market confidence in Open RAN
Based on TIP’s extensive research and experience, a well-coordinated engine that reduces the complexities inherent in carrier-grade Open RAN system integration is essential. This engine would power comprehensive coordination, harmonize market fragmentation, drive greater industry coordination and create supply chain efficiencies.
Open RAN solutions must rise significantly to reach high-volume purchases and deployment at scale to impact unit pricing and become cost-effective technologies, but market confidence is still a problem.
Open RAN certifications
To respond to integration demands and build marketplace confidence, TIP is a pioneer in formal Open RAN certifications that guarantee interoperability at the system level. An industry challenge is to achieve vendor diversity, facilitating significant structural efficiencies within the supply chain to streamline efforts across hundreds of operators and their vendors.
A clear outline of the entire end-to-end Open RAN lifecycle processes is fundamental for both vendors that are network providers. TIP defines four phases of the Open RAN lifecycle processes:
- Harmonization of operator requirements.
- Roadmap and lifecycle management.
- System release certification.
- Solution and integration benchmarking. Operational satisfaction surveys; and system procurement, including a readily accessible digital catalog for vendors to showcase their products to MNOs.
At the heart of this full lifecycle, system certification is a federated global network of certification providers, which are independent labs and system integrators that are TIP-accredited.
TIP explained the system certification function should include coordination of the entire system lifecycle from beginning to end. Certificates can support operators and vendors, help them build system roadmaps, and benchmark post-sales customer satisfaction.
SRC certifications have already proven to be effective. The 2020 TIP SRC Pilot revealed a 60% reduction in time to validate Open RAN releases. The pilot demonstrated the direct value of a certification in reducing operator time and effort to achieve successful Open RAN deployment.
“In this case, the SRC Pilot established the suitability of a complete Open RAN system,” TIP said. “The adoption of such a process is what we believe will prove critical to reducing the time to market for Open RAN solutions.”
TIP added that the ecosystem needs indispensable federated labs and coordinated system integration in the short term. “To ensure that Open RAN does not stall out in the coming years under the heavy inertia of incumbency, we need to establish such a system certification function immediately.”
TIP’s badging program
TIP’s new and updated badging program ensures operators, products or technologies are ready for deployment from single or multiple vendors.
“Bronze, silver and gold badges allow vendors to demonstrate varying product and solution maturity levels,” TIP said. “Bronze badges demonstrate a vendor’s self-assessed compliance with TIP requirements, while silver involves increasing levels of testing. Gold badges demonstrate full commercial validation based on TIP-defined test plans.”
TIP badges can demonstrate validation for a specific use case such as low-density rural wireless or private network deployments. Gold and silver badges assure operators that the software will run efficiently, and that the combination of equipment will support a specific use case.
Talent gaps, funding and Open RAN global deployment
Organizations and companies must address talent deficits to achieve Open RAN global deployment and U.S. leadership in the wireless industry. A skilled workforce with the appropriate technical training is essential in order to reach “ready-to-launch” capabilities of operating and maintaining 5G Open RAN networks.
“We must seize the window of opportunity for Open RAN infrastructure investments within the remaining 5G build cycle, including applying Open RAN in the growing domain of private networks and well before the next major cycle of infrastructure buildout for 6G,” TIP said.
SEE: 5G vs 6G: What’s the difference? (TechRepublic)
TIP recently submitted comments to the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration on structuring and administering grants from its $1.5 billion Wireless Innovation Fund under the U.S. CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.
The $1.5 billion for the Public Innovation Fund represents only a small fraction of roughly $280 billion appropriated under the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. However, investments from the private sector are also required for the monumental task of deploying Open RAN networks nationally in the U.S., as well as globally.
“While TIP supports the setting up of the fund, we don’t have a view on the sums involved beyond noting that this is obviously primarily targeted at the U.S. market,” the company’s spokesperson said. “TIP encourages other governments, unions and consortia to invest in similar initiatives to spur the adoption of open and disaggregated technologies in other parts of the world.”
MWC 2023: Future of telecom infrastructure
Starting February 27, 2023, members of TIP’s leadership team will discuss the future of telecom infrastructure at MWC 23 in Barcelona, featuring success stories from companies like Dell, IP Infusion and NTT. TIP representatives will include Kristian Toivo, executive director, Dave Hutton, chief engineer, and Vish Mathur, global head of engagement.
Read next: For secure 5G virtual networks, a “RAN opener” for wireless could cut both ways (TechRepublic)