In this month’s column, I want to revisit my earlier discussion surrounding the radio access network (RAN). Last year, December in fact, I offered a glimpse into the history of the RAN in “A brief history of the radio access network.”
The O-RAN Alliance vs. OpenRAN
More so, I planned to write several posts that aim for all of us to better understand a significant component of the cellular network infrastructure, namely the RAN. The RAN has garnered some momentum and attention last year, and will undoubtedly gain further attention, as we progress through this New Year – it’s all down to the excitement surrounding 5G. As a reminder, we have seen the emergence of several new software algorithms and acronyms, such as OpenRAN, the O-RAN Alliance and cloud RAN (cRAN).
One thing I do recall touching upon in last year’s post was the O-RAN Alliance, which should not be confused with the OpenRAN. The OpenRAN is a group that was launched by the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) in 2017 with the objective to define and build 2G, 3G and 4G solutions that are based on “genal purpose, vendor-neutral software and hardware technology. This includes the creation of programmable, virtualized RAN solutions based on general purpose processing platforms (GPPP), along with disaggregated software that helps towards the acceleration of innovation.” (viavi.com).
With each generation comes along new standards
Incidentally, ADVA who also joined the alliance last year, plan to develop open and disaggregated mobile networks, in turn, fostering openness and interoperability. Anthony Magee, senior director, global business development at ADVA added “Our long-standing commitment to openness aligns perfectly with the O-RAN ALLIANCE’s goals. By joining the community and adding our end-to-end solution portfolio to the mix, we’re helping develop specifications for LTE, 5G and beyond and accelerating the deployment of next-generation mobile network architectures.”
There’s naturally a buzz surrounding 5G, the next generation of cellular technology. Everyone is excited, since the benefits for both consumers and businesses are enormous. However, each generation, that is 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, are governed by differing standards regarding the structure of the network, where different frequencies are used, data speeds differ and, of course, the varying protocols used for transmitting and receiving and general coordination of the voice and data flow across the overall network.
Disaggregation provides a “level playing field” of sorts that creates new and fair scalable opportunities for businesses.
Various and diverse frequency ranges
The RAN comprises a base station and numerous antennas, which serve a specific region or geographical area with cellular connectivity. The RAN also has a core network that includes a RAN controller. Moreover, the Third-Generation Partnership Program (3GPP) offers the telecommunications community technologies that cover the RAN, core transport networks and many other services. The 3GPP standards provide an exhaustive set of specifications for 5G network architectures and, as such, these newer standards afford modularization, reusability and autonomy, which form some essential aspects of today’s cellular network.
The 5G radio spectrum, of course, has several frequencies allocated to the New Radio (NR). I’m sure some or perhaps most of you have read about the “millimeter wave,” which has frequencies between 30 and 300GHz, since the wavelengths vary from 1 to 10mm. In fact, the 24 and 100GHz spectrum has solely been assigned to 5G in many countries across the world. The various and diverse frequency ranges lend themselves quite well to a number of services and/or applications.
Encouraging the support of open interfaces
Network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) are two software-algorithmic-based methodologies that both help to support the 5G infrastructure, with virtualization of devices where network slicing, for example, permits multiple virtualized networks to operate concurrently. Likewise, NFV overcomes other challenges presented by such a network infrastructure and supports virtualized storage and numerous network resources, which can be customized for specific applications.
NFV and SDN are not limited to rudimentary virtualized resources either, since they also extend to the RAN. In particular, network disaggregation, something which is wholly endorsed by the O-RAN Alliance, allows network components to be virtualized, offering operators scalability and flexibility – this ultimately enhances the user experience when the capacity is increased. Additionally, such virtualization provides a “level playing field” of sorts that creates new and fair scalable opportunities for businesses. What’s more, with such flexibility supported across the infrastructure, the O-RAN Alliance encourages the support of open interfaces, as well as the development of open source to accelerate the deployment of new services and applications.
Until next time …
The O-RAN Alliance has become a global community supporting mobile network operators and vendors who operate in the RAN industry. With a mission to reshape the industry vying for an intelligent, open, virtualized and interoperable mobile network, the alliance “is dedicated to embedding intelligence throughout the RAN infrastructure” (ADVA.com). And finally, with the openness of the O-RAN Alliance being established, Anthony Magee concludes, “One of the key elements we’re bringing to the table is our innovative approach to disaggregation. By working closely with our O-RAN partners, we’re helping to extend this into radio access networks, breaking down barriers and creating a disaggregated, centralized model with virtualized RAN;” and “Our long-standing commitment to openness aligns perfectly with the O-RAN Alliance’s goals.”
So, this is where your “very open-minded and an incredibly flexible” Dr. G signs off.