5G and Beyond

Open RAN, Open Innovation

The mobile radio access network (RAN), comprising the basestations and antennas you see deployed on rooftops and towers and utility poles as well as the not-so-visible backhaul transport infrastructure, connects billions of users worldwide and supports a trillion-dollar market in mobile services.

On this evidence, the RAN market structure is an obvious success. However, what has worked well to date may not be fit for purpose in the future. That's why, at Heavy Reading , I'm leading a new research project on Open RAN, a set of technologies and processes that aim to disrupt this market. But this isn't destructive disruption that will undercut investment or R&D processes -- this is disruption that will help RAN innovations get to market sooner.

Heavy Reading defines Open RAN as:

    The ability to integrate, deploy and operate radio access networks using components, subsystems and software sourced from multiple suppliers, connected over open interfaces.

The idea is to use some of the same principles applied in cloud, SDN and white box networking and apply that to radio access. It's not going to be easy -- RAN is fundamentally harder to "softwareize" than other parts of the network stack -- and it's important to emphasize that it will take time to achieve "mobile scale." However, the demands on the next-generation RAN are so intense that operators need new cost points, densities and operating models if they are to serve hyper-connected societies and industries.

On the positive side, the industry at large is embracing the challenge and we now see a route forward for Open RAN. To get a sense of what's happening, I have prepared three pieces of research:

  • I interviewed executives leading a new operator-led group called the ORAN Alliance, speaking after their inaugural board meeting in Los Angeles this autumn. You can see what they had to say in this video:

  • I conducted an operator survey to gauge sentiment towards Open RAN use cases, virtualization, white box radio, open interfaces and the APIs that will drive the programmable RAN. You can download a copy of the research, available at no charge, here: Heavy Reading's 2018 Open RAN Operator Survey

  • The results of the survey will also be presented in an exclusive Light Reading webinar on December 17 entitled Open RAN Operator Survey What? Why? When? Joining me to discuss the implications of Open RAN will be executives from technology suppliers already active in this new eco-system. It's free to attend for anyone -- you can register here.

With new use cases for mobile RAN from private networks, to ultra-dense urban deployments and low-cost coverage, and with 5G set to launch commercially around the world, Heavy Reading and Light Reading will keep a close eye on progress in Open RAN through 2019.

— Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading

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