First xRAN Spec, Backed by AT&T & Verizon, Expected by Early 2018

The xRAN.org -- an open source radio access network (RAN) project backed by major operators and vendors -- is getting ready to deliver its first specification late this year or early in 2018.

The consortium has been developing standardized north- and south-bound interfaces to facilitate deploying services, working on enabling the implementation of RAN software on off-the-shelf hardware, and giving operators flexibility in placing software functions at the edge or at the cellsite, depending on fronthaul availability. This will involve decoupling the RAN control plane from the user plane, developing modular LTE eNodeB Base Station (eNB) software, as well as the open interfaces, the group says.

Mavenir Systems Inc. 's SVP of Business Development, John Baker, told Light Reading Tuesday that the group is about ready to unveil its first xRAN specification. "Hopefully by the end of this year or in early January," Baker said when asked when it would appear.

Baker said that Mavenir, an xRAN member and participant, has hardware using the spec -- as developed so far -- in trials with "four large carriers globally." He didn't name them but xRAN operator members include AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM), Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ).

"We're trying to avoid any third-party IPR," in the specification, Baker added.

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Baker says that the final piece being worked on now involves finalizing the operation and management (OAM) interface. This is to aid interoperability between different suppliers of remote radio heads (RRHs) and baseband units (BBUs). That is key to enabling cloud RAN via xRAN, where the distributed radioheads are controlled by a centralized brain, much like managed enterprise WiFi systems.

"We're working with five or six remote radio head providers to help them," noted Baker. He expects the first commercial hardware using the xRAN specification to arrive in the first half of 2018.

If the group can get the xRAN specification accepted in the industry it could precipitate yet another sea-change in the RAN hardware business. As operators start to develop truly multivendor networks, smaller specialized RAN players might be able to break into a part of the network market that has been dominated by Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia and ZTE in recent years.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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