Zero Touch Automation is Key to Achieving the Benefits of RAN Virtualization

In conjunction with Altiostar and Red Hat, the analysts at Analysys Mason took a look at what would accelerate Open vRAN deployments across the globe and their answer, published in a recent whitepaper, is automation.

Mobile network operators (MNOs) have been slow to virtualize the radio access network (RAN) due to performance requirements and complexity. However, according to the whitepaper, they are now turning to this area of the network searching for the types of benefits that telecoms operators are experiencing in other network domains. These benefits include lower total cost of ownership (TCO), greater agility in scaling capacity, and the prospect of increased and faster service innovation in the future.

RAN virtualization is being enabled by emerging open standards that support its functional disaggregation into central, distributed, and radio units with new technologies that facilitate its technical disaggregation separating RAN software from proprietary hardware. Virtualized RAN will be the fastest-growing domain in terms of cloud investment, expected to grow from $293 million in 2021 to $12.1 billion by 2026, according to the whitepaper.

Benefits of Zero Touch Automation

Zero-touch automation is key to achieving the benefits that MNOs expect from a virtualized RAN, leading to improved agility and innovation. Technical disaggregation, open interfaces, and automation are the three technology pillars supporting RAN virtualization (see the figure).

Building a virtualized RAN using a cloud-native platform approach mitigates the risks of disaggregation and enables MNOs to develop automation in a consistent and reusable way across virtualized RAN components. Cloud-native platforms also enable unprecedented integration between business and network processes, allowing MNOs to use business intelligence to drive automated decisions at network level.

Zero-touch automation needs to span three phases of a virtualized RAN lifecycle: Day 0 deployment, Day 1 preparation for operation and Day 2 maintenance for the period in which the virtualized RAN is live in production. It will take time to evolve automation towards zero-touch, AI-driven control that can predict anomalous events and make appropriate changes to the virtualized RAN to counter them. MNOs should develop their RAN automation in a modular way so that cloud-native tooling can be used across additional network domains in the future, further reducing the cost and complexity of the network end-to-end.

The whitepaper points out that the provider of the cloud platform on which Open vRAN will run will play a pivotal role in zero-touch automation, as it will be the source of tooling on which such automation will be built. The whitepaper also discusses the criteria to select the best platform for zero-touch automation, such as the cloud platform provider’s track record of working with MNOs and its expertise around cloud-native automation.

In summary, virtualizing the RAN promises to deliver multiple benefits, including the opportunities for service innovation and cost reduction. To deliver these benefits, automation enabled by the cloud-native platform technologies that will underpin a virtualized RAN is critical. Operators that create a collaborative environment around their common platform tooling and approach will find it easier to build the end-to-end automation that they need for zero-touch operation of the virtualized RAN. A platform that is open and based on widely used, industry-standard, open-source components will attract an ecosystem of vendors across network domains, helping operators achieve their zero-touch automation visions.

To learn more about how technical disaggregation, open interfaces, and automation are making the business case for RAN virtualization, download the Analysys Mason whitepaper titled  “An Automated, Platform-Based Approach To RAN Virtualization Is Key To Achieving Its Benefits,” which was sponsored by Red Hat and Altiostar and authored by analyst Caroline Chappell.

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Jason King Director of Marketing