How the Past 18 months Established Open vRAN as the Framework for 4G & 5G Networks

This past year and a half was an important time for Open vRAN development, with new technology and new deployments signaling to the entire industry that Open vRAN is the way forward for 4G and 5G. In a recent whitepaper, industry analyst, Stéphane Téral, Chief Analyst of LightCounting Market Research, says that now “open vRAN is fully vindicated.”

In this whitepaper, titled “A Reality Check on How Open vRAN Delivers on its Promises and is the Perfect Fit for this 4G/5G Investment Cycle” (download), Téral researches some of the milestones of the past 18 months. The whitepaper details why the activities of this time frame proved the value proposition of Open vRAN, namely the performance cost effectiveness, agility, flexibility, scalability and reliability of the technology.

Open vRAN utilizes open interfaces to give operators flexibility to mix and match vRAN software and hardware components from different vendors, which in turn leads to the deployment of best in breed products for high quality innovative network architectures. In Open vRAN, BBU functions are disaggregated into a distributed unit (DU) and a centralized unit (CU). These Open vRAN elements are programmable and various operational tasks such as new cell site integration (auto-commissioning), detection and automated recovery from failures (self-healing) are automated and drive costs down.

Urban Deployment Proves Open RAN Scales
One of the biggest milestones covered in the whitepaper is growth and performance of the Rakuten Mobile network. As the world’s first nation-wide commercial-scale network built entirely on Open RAN standards, its success has been emboldening other operators to utilize the technology.

Rakuten built its 4G network in record time (followed quickly by its 5G network) with a total Open vRAN buildout capital expense that was 40% lower than that of traditional RAN. The most significant Capex saving, 60%, comes from the reduction of hardware needed in the Open vRAN architecture because the RAN software can run on COTS servers.

But most importantly, the network delivered the performance that consumers want – up to 1.77 Gbps of 5G download speed. The network is offering very high throughput even in urban markets with very high user density.

The success of this greenfield network has led brownfield operators (those with existing 4G RANs) to trial Open RAN and begin their deployment planning. The whitepaper points to Telefónica as a leading example of this trend. The operator is deploying Open RAN in its core markets and expects that 50% of its networks in those markets will be Open RAN based by 2025.

Another market set to benefit from Open RAN are rural and smaller operators that are affected by the “rip and replace” program authorized in Oct. 2020 by the US FCC that provides funds for these operators to replace untrusted RAN equipment. The FCC has also held several different forums promoting Open RAN as it seeks to invigorate the market for wireless equipment developed in the U.S.

The whitepaper also looks at migration strategies and whether operators should replace existing 2G/3G/4G RANs with Open RAN. The paper acknowledges that there is no standard for 2G/3G Open vRAN, limiting the impact of the open interfaces and large ecosystem. At the same time, new Open vRAN implementations need to co-exist with these networks.

In the end, Open vRAN has evolved from a revolutionary capability to the mainstream way to build new 4G and 5G networks for both greenfield and brownfield networks. For more detail, download the whitepaper for free.

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