Dispelling Open RAN Myths

While acknowledging that Open RAN is the future, several legacy RAN vendors are perpetuating myths to create market uncertainty and slow its adoption.

There’s more at stake in this discussion then legacy vendors protecting their market share; never before have MNOs needed the network and service agility that comes with Open RAN. The new service possibilities for 5G networks are many and competitors are aggressive. Sticking with the legacy vendors is not a good way to stay ahead of the curve.

Let’s look at three of their main issues:

Ready for prime time?

The gist of this criticism is that Open RAN software is not network ready, and still too immature for a significant role in the network. The proof against this claim is in the networks that are now running using Open RAN.

Experience with building production Open RAN networks proves that it is ready for prime time. Open RAN solutions are already deployed at scale and providing the highest level of performance in the Rakuten Mobile network in Japan, which has some of the most quality conscious consumers in the world.

The Rakuten Mobile solution supports advanced technologies, including macro, indoor/outdoor small cells, massive MIMO and mmWave radios, all supported by one Open vRAN software layer.  In terms of performance, the network is delivering throughput of 1.77 Gbps on the 5G network. As for speed of deployment, the network is expected to cover 93% of the country by the end of 2021, after having only launched in April 2020.

Support for Open RAN has also been echoed by major operators, including DISH, AT&T, Verizon, Telefónica, Airtel, STC, and Deutsche Telekom.  Telefónica has reaffirmed its commitment to Open RAN in recently announcing its intention to deploy 800 Open RAN sites across its networks in four countries as the next step to mass deployment.

Standards process

One of the biggest complaints is that the O-RAN Alliance is not a true standards body like 3GPP. However, the O-RAN Alliance was founded by carriers and has a role of rapidly addressing the needs of this community. O-RAN Alliance is focused on disaggregation of radio baseband and open interfaces between these disaggregated functions.

It can respond quickly to new disaggregation requirements with new specifications that are turned into open standards and, in some cases, taken up by the other standards bodies for ratification.

One proof of the effectiveness of the O-RAN Alliance standards development is the large and growing ecosystem of vendors ranging from RAN software vendors to makers of remote radio heads, servers, packet accelerators, and others. Without the standards, there would not be widescale interoperability for these ecosystem players.

The most popular O-RAN Alliance interface standards is fronthaul, which is being deployed today by operators. The O-RAN 7.2x split allows for the reduction in fronthaul bandwidth requirements compared to the CPRI interface that has been used by traditional RAN vendors.

As a result, operators can now deploy RAN architectures where the baseband is centralized. Baseband centralization helps in resource pooling and allows for deployment of centralized radio resource coordination techniques for interference mitigation and other benefits. Other interfaces are in the process of being finalized by O-RAN Alliance.

Security standards

Some in the industry have raised concerns about Open RAN security, stating that open interfaces increase the threat surface. Our view is entirely different, as multiple companies are working together in the O-RAN Alliance to define secure interfaces.

First, Open RAN deployments use commercial hardware, operating systems, virtualization platforms and other components. Each of these has built-in data security features that provide protection without needing to be replicated in Open RAN software. Also, Open RAN solutions run on cloud platforms where cloud vendors bring their years of expertise to ensure security for workloads.

Security transparency is also an important, built-in security function of Open RAN. With an open system, it is possible to identify and fix any vulnerabilities much sooner compared to a closed proprietary architecture.

Another aspect of this transparency is the ability to adopt a zero-trust approach towards security. This means there are no black boxes within the network. All modules have interfaces that can be audited by neutral security companies and can be efficiently replaced if there are vulnerabilities or non-trusted suppliers in the network.

Open RAN is introducing a mechanism where controls and checks can be introduced into networks, thus ensuring not only diversity of suppliers but also securing the backbone of networks.

Rakuten busts a few additional Open RAN myths in a recent blog post. The real-world experience of carriers with Open RAN is the ultimate proof that it is ready for prime time, based on open standards and a secure framework.

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About The Author
Jason King Director of Marketing