Adam Koeppe, the senior vice president for technology strategy, architecture and planning at Verizon, said the operator's move to virtualized infrastructure is ongoing. "For us, it's a super-efficient way to architect next-generation networks, those capabilities and that technology concept feeds right into the radio access network," he said.
Koeppe, speaking at a recent 5G World panel hosted by Light Reading's Mike Dano, continued: "What we're in the midst of now is virtualizing the baseband radio functions within Verizon's 4G and 5G networks.
"The trick shot of the challenge for global network operators like ourselves and Vodafone has been how do you take telecommunications infrastructure and the functions they provide and use that in a virtual environment," he added. "That's where the lion's share of the work has been over the last few years."
A lot of progress has been made and Yago Tenorio, group head of network architecture at Vodafone Group, added that the operator has been working on open RAN for five years. "We've been very active since then," he said. "We've had trials set up and working, taking live traffic in India and Turkey. These are pretty significant size trials, I would say. More recently, we've set up trials in two countries in Africa, Congo and Mozambique and we brought them to Europe as well, to Ireland and to the UK."
Both speakers agreed that the early efforts have turned into the momentum that is fueling further progress. "I agree that this is for real," said Tenorio. "I would even add, this is unstoppable now. The tests that we've done over the last couple of years have been very successful. The performance that we've been able to extract from the open RAN systems we deployed in all cases ended up matching the incumbent KPIs and, in some cases, they even got slightly better KPIs."
Tenorio did, however, acknowledge that roll-outs so far have been in suburban or rural environments which are benign in terms of traffic density and the capacity required. "That is where the readiness of the system is right now," he added. "And let's not fool ourselves, we're not ready to take open RAN to fully, fully-dense urban environments and deliver 5G massive MIMO, that's not ready yet, but it's not far away either."
Koeppe agreed: "I love how you described it as unstoppable," he said. "This is not debatable in a sense because this architecture is the end state architecture for operators that are providing a radio access service. This is how it's set up and you're starting to see that now also in the 5G specifications. Our 5G network is virtualized, so there's step one of that equation there."
Tenorio then bemoaned the shrinking of the vendor ecosystem which he described as limiting options for operators. "There is not enough innovation or competition," he said. "I think the industry needs a richer ecosystem with more options now that will bring innovation, faster innovation that will lower the barrier for companies to enter into this space right now. This model with open RAN means more people can play so that will bring more innovation faster and will reduce the total cost of ownership."
For Koeppe, openness provides the impetus for new vendors to enter the market because the barriers to entry are lowered. In addition, open environments simplify the landscape and give credibility to the notion that this is the direction of travel and the market is open to new options.
"In the past, we were always entertaining new solutions from partners and this architecture creates an environment where that interaction can be escalated very rapidly," he said. "New players can come into the space in a much shorter timeframe than we would traditionally see in a closed environment. That's one of the things that is yielding all these interactions with traditional and non-traditional vendors for us."
— George Malim, contributing editor, Light Reading