OpenRAN: How 5G is Changing Wireless Networks
Interview with Gavin Hayhurst, Product Marketing Director, TEOCO
(Part 2 of a 2 part series)
In the second of a two-part series, TEOCO Product Marketing Director Gavin Hayhurst talks about virtualizing the radio access network (RAN), and some of the expected timelines for creating tomorrow’s 5G networks.
Q: OpenRAN is an initiative that will allow fully programmable networks to run on disaggregated, general-purpose hardware. How are carriers reacting to this concept, and what are the benefits?
Gavin Hayhurst: There are a number of RAN virtualization initiatives, OpenRAN, vRAN, xRAN and others all working on delivering white box network elements and standardized interfaces which promise to lower operator CAPEX and OPEX.
Primarily these initiatives are focused on virtualizing the eNodeB and fronthaul parts of the network, but I think it’s reasonable to expect the scope will expand to cover baseband units and the rest of the RAN in due course.
A positive sign is that almost all these initiatives have carrier involvement, and some even have support from traditional network equipment providers. For instance, Nokia is one of the co-founders of TIP’s OpenRAN initiative. Carriers are continuously looking for ways to reduce their operating costs, so interest in these initiatives is high, especially with TIP’s OpenRAN initiative, since Facebook seems to be hoping to re-create the success they are seeing with their Open Compute Project in the mobile space.
Q: On the topic of OpenRAN, Analysys Mason recently presented a CSP survey of ‘RAN ecosystem Aspirations vs. Reality’ at the European Telecommunications Summit. They showed there is indeed a significant disconnect. For instance, 84 percent of carriers want a virtualized RAN for their 5G network, but 78 percent are in the process of installing a physical one.
GH: I think there are several factors contributing to the disconnect. Open-source initiatives are still a bit too immature and not yet ready for prime time, although this will probably change over the next couple of years. The risks with open-source approaches are typically higher than purchasing from a specialist vendor, and this may become even more of a concern as operators move increasingly into critical communication services where reliability is paramount. It will be interesting to watch the progression.
If we look forward to 5 years’ time though, I think adoption will still be low. RAN is a critical component of a wireless network, and there will be a lot of reluctance to move to an unproven approach.
In that same survey it was shown most carriers want a multi-vendor RAN with open interfaces, but, 80 percent plan to build out their first 5G RAN with just one or two vendors. I think carriers like the comfort and assurance of being able to push responsibility to one of the top 5 vendors if problems arise. When it comes to an open-source network, it isn’t as easy to escalate and apply commercial pressure to get problems resolved.
Q: It seems like we’re in a real time of technological change, but everyone is a bit nervous to take the next step. Going beyond OpenRAN, what are the timelines for some other new technologies – and will it be worth the investment?
GH: Timelines are harder to envision with all these technology shifts. Five years ago, network function virtualization (NFV) was going to be broadly deployed by all operators within the next 1-2 years, and yet we are still nowhere near that. I think for all these changes, we will be disappointed how far we get in 1-2 years but amazed looking back in 10 years’ time how far we have come.
The worthiness of the investment is also hard to judge. Clearly, NFV has some maturing to do before there is any hope of realizing the cost savings we envisioned. If we look at 5G, there are many operators with aggressive roll-out plans, but really, apart from some limited fixed-wireless access opportunities, the business case for 5G just isn’t there yet.
LTE was an amazing leap and we haven’t reached its limits yet in terms of speed or capacity. The use cases network slicing and edge computing could enable are far from being a reality. For the most part, it seems operators are moving to 5G more for the bragging rights, or to avoid being left behind by the competition, rather than timelines defined by a sound return on investment.
Q: How is TEOCO addressing changes in the RAN? What tools do you provide to help with this transformation?
GH: TEOCO provides a full suite of RAN solutions to address each stage of the network lifecycle – from planning to analytics, optimization, assurance, and configuration. These solutions deliver a wide range of capabilities to help engineers boost their efficiency and the performance of the network.
It is key for us to keep pace with the technology evolution happening today. If we look at network planning, our ASSET suite already supports key 5G modeling capabilities and we will have a fully capable 5G planning suite by the end of 2018. With Helix®, we are already delivering service assurance for hybrid physical and virtual architectures.
We are also looking to see how we can further assist operators beyond upgrading our existing capabilities to 5G and other technological advances. One such initiative is looking at UAV’s, or drones, and providing CSP’s with an end-to-end management platform that ensures they can plan, monitor, and assure delivery and performance of UAV services. These services will be both internal to the CSP, for things such as tower inspections, but there’s also an opportunity to expand this to third parties as a drone fleet management service.
We are certainly in exciting times!
About Gavin Hayhurst: Gavin maintains overall responsibility for the product marketing of TEOCO’s OSS and BSS software solution portfolio. He has over 18 years of mobile telecoms experience working for both network operators and global vendors of hardware, software, and services, including AIRCOM International, Ericsson, and MTN. Gavin holds a MEng in Industrial Engineering and a BSc in Electrical Engineering and is an avid travel photographer.