You may have only heard about Rakuten’s system in Japan and Dish Network’s proposed system in the United States, but open radio access network (ORAN) is becoming a commercial reality with multiple deployments using different vendors all over the world, according to John Baker, senior vice president, business development, Mavenir. In particular, five major carriers in Europe have recently signed agreements to deploy ORAN.
Baker spoke about the possible cost savings with ORAN and its growing popularity at the Competitive Carriers Association’s Mobile Carriers Show being held virtually this week.
“There is ORAN activity now on every continent with major networks being built, with Rakuten leading the way,” Baker said. “We have been watching their experiences very carefully. Rakuten has been seeing capital expense savings of 40 percent and operational expense savings of 30 percent.”
The ORAN standardization movement’s momentum has been increasing over the last two decades, according to Baker. The network core market is seen as an example of how open interfaces and virtualization can derive a benefit for both operators and subscribers.
“The technological advances that have led to virtualized networks have been in motion for the last 20 years,” he said. “Core technologies have been virtualized for the last 10 years. Virtualized networks, today, support 150 million to 200 million users.”
Baker dismissed claims that the ORAN standard is incomplete as being noise from the proprietary manufacturers. ORAN has picked up where the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) left off with proprietary standards in the standardization process.
“The critical specifications between the radio and the baseband unit were finished about two years ago,” Baker said. “The first units are coming into the market now with those interfaces built into those products.” The ORAN standard will continue to evolve, much like every other standard, he added.
Baker announced that Mavenir completed interoperability testing with five different radio vendors this week and it will continue testing with other manufacturers.
“We are excited that our efforts are now coming into fruition for truly open and truly interoperable specifications that have been proven or are being proven through plugfests and interoperability testing amongst vendors,” he said. “As more interoperability testing takes place of open interfaces, the supply chain is widened and diversified.”
Baker busted another myth circulating about ORAN, concerning its security. Some have said that open systems are less secure than closed systems, but he said it is quite the opposite.
“With open systems you can actually see what’s going on,” he said. “You’ve got specifications and the interfaces. You can design tests to address the issues around the threats that may be there in the marketplace.
“With closed systems, you don’t know if there are other protocols or other spy software sitting in those networks,” he continued. “So, the more these networks are open and visible to suppliers, operators and the regulatory authorities, decisions can be made about whether those networks are good or bad.”
Another myth that Baker busted about virtualization and open interfaces is that they are overly power-hungry. Power use is actually less because of the use of commercial off-the-shelf platforms used for information technology, which takes the place of equipment deployed at the tower site.
“If you can minimize the amount of equipment that you actually put at the cell site, you can actually maximize the return on the investment,” he said.
According to the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance, 80 percent of cell sites carry 20 percent of the traffic. In terms of real usage, cell sites are used only 30 percent of the day. Using software models, the virtual network can be designed to send power and baseband resources to the tower sites that need them the most, when they need them, according to Baker.
“Virtualized ORAN systems use less power for backhaul, because if there are no users, there is no traffic. If there is no traffic there is no power consumption,” he said.
Baker said the transition from closed proprietary networks to virtualized ORAN should be looked at as simply another technology cycle in the growth of the wireless industry.
“It is very similar to what happened in the computer world, when it moved from mainframes to desktops,” he said. “It is really opening up the ability for others to compete, to become drivers in these networks.”