Why open radio access networks matter in the 5G era

As radio access network architectures open up, how will the new multi-vendor landscape impact customers and the industry? Let’s look at the current state of play for interoperable 5G mobile infrastructure.
Arthur Cole
OPEN road

One of the key elements of data communications in the 5G era is the radio access network (RAN). This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, in that it provides a vital link between any and all wireless devices in a given region and to core transport infrastructure and services.

The question going forward, however, is how is this piece is to be architected and how much vendor interoperability should exist in order to provide both universal connectivity and the broadest set of network and data services. ADVA stands fully behind the concept of open RAN architectures as it offers the best path forward to achieve both objectives.

Disaggregating the RAN

One of the fundamental requirements of the RAN will be disaggregation. By allowing service providers to mix and match multiple vendor solutions quickly and easily, advanced architectures will be able to grow and evolve according to the needs of providers and customers, not vendors. As technology author Dean Anthony Gratton noted recently, open architectures provide a level playing field where best-of-class solutions can rise to the top, even if they are not sourced by industry-dominant manufacturers.

This will be crucial in the 5G era due to the range of frequencies that will inhabit the RAN and the wide variety of services and applications they will carry. As well, network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) are dependent on network slicing and other techniques to function properly, and this will require broad interoperability across multiple networks – interoperability that will be difficult to implement on disparate proprietary platforms.

At the moment, there are two principal open RAN efforts underway, with ADVA lending support to both. OpenRAN was founded by 2017 by the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) with the intent to develop open 2G, 3G and 4G solutions using general purpose processing platforms and disaggregated software. This should not be confused with the O-RAN Alliance, a broader collective of network operators and technology suppliers looking to develop specifications for intelligent, interoperable mobile infrastructure.

The advent of open networking represents a paradigm shift in the way we develop and design the digital data ecosystem.
At this point, it is unclear whether the two groups will become rivals supporting incompatible open systems or will incorporate one another’s developments into a broadly cohesive architecture. ADVA has lent support to both groups, feeling this is the best way network providers can leverage the inherent openness in our network virtualization and other produce lines. The Ensemble platform, for example, already provides the kind of open architecture needed to transform current infrastructure into next-generation service platforms. With tools like open APIs, zero-touch provisioning and full orchestration from the core to the edge, Ensemble is ready to support any and all open standards.

 

Precise timing

One of the key requirements of an integrated networking environment is synchronization. With open platforms, precise timing across all participating vendor solutions must be guaranteed before services are pushed into production environments. Not only does this streamline deployments, it avoids the potential for costly and time-consuming teardowns later.

In pursuit of this goal, ADVA recently teamed up with Telefonica Germany, Edgecore and other stakeholders to demonstrate the highly accurate timing capabilities of the Ensemble Activator and Oscilloquartz synchronization solutions on white box hardware. The trial showed the efficacy of sending PTP sync information and related messaging with precise timestamping data, which in turn can be applied to open RAN 5G radio access points across disaggregated cell site gateways.

The advent of open networking represents a paradigm shift in the way we develop and design the digital data ecosystem. While single-vendor solutions have done a lot to get us where we are today, the next generation data user requires rapid, robust expansion of both wired and wireless infrastructure without sacrificing, and in fact enhancing, the robustness and reliability of today’s networks.

By opening the playing field to vendors of all types and sizes, both consumers and producers of data services will be the ultimate beneficiaries – allowing everyone to take full advantage of a lively and vibrant datasphere.

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