Not Just A Niche Technology – Open RAN Has A Place In All Environments
There is tremendous excitement about Open RAN in the telco industry, and the market momentum behind these initiatives is gathering pace as initial deployments have shown very positive results that indicate even more widespread applicability. Macro network infrastructure is forging ahead with Open RAN architecture. Like any “new” technology, early adopters tend to dip their toes in the water where any potential mishaps will have minimal disruptions in the rest of the operations. In this case, for the network operator, it makes business sense that initial ORAN deployments are in greenfield sites and rural environments before rolling out on a larger scale. As such, I believe that the market opportunity for 5G indoors will also grow in the following years, with Open RAN playing a role to accelerate in-building mobile network optimization solutions leveraging virtualization through an open architecture, it can bring values to the enterprise market including infrastructure reconfigurability, network sustainability, and deployment cost efficiency.
In urban locations, due to the large availability of fiber networks that facilitate centralized RAN deployment to meet the required fronthaul bandwidth and latency, Open RAN will enable vendors to optimize RAN systems for in-building use without having to adopt a proprietary approach. Indoor wireless solutions can be deployed or upgraded using open interfaces and virtualization by supporting virtualized 5G NR baseband functions and MEC (Mobile Edge Computing) that runs on x86-based server platforms. In other words, having the CU (central unit) and DU (distributed unit) or even just the CU located at the edge location connecting multiple macro and indoor cells, resource utilization can be maximized to reduce the CAPEX.
For medium to large venues, the demand for capacity in indoor spaces and large, public venues is challenging traditional deployment models, and forcing operators to rethink network upgrades and management in a cost-effective way. Specifically, DAS (distributed antenna system) and distributed indoor RAN solutions will co-exist and overlay solutions will be key to accommodate both legacy and 5G networks in indoor connectivity. DSS (dynamic spectrum sharing) technology provides an easier transition route to 5G for operators, as it allows the dynamic allocation of 4G and 5G traffic with the existing infrastructure. When talking about a future-proof technology to offer open interfaces for interoperability and drive investment cost down, Open RAN comprises flexible hardware and software equipment that deliver resource pooling and sharing, energy efficiency and space saving.
Speaking of all-G Open RAN, legacy technologies of 2G/3G cannot be overlooked as they are still carrying essential services such as voice, M2M and roaming. Having the same vendor provide legacy networks yet maximize performance with 4G and 5G systems is an ideal solution for operators, where hybrid infrastructure and software defined radios become essential to meet future upgrade and capacity expansion requirements.
Meanwhile, building owners and enterprises are increasingly taking up to invest in their own in-building solutions to meet their needs. Although most such early deployments today still rely on the operator-owned spectrum, we have seen more policy-driven open or shared spectrum allocated worldwide to facilitate and diversify the deployment model. A survey indicated that 30% of tier-1 MNO and 50% of tier-2 MNOs out of 60 around the globe expect to start rolling out Open RAN commercially by 2023 , though some key Open RAN contributors hesitated about the impact of Open RAN in the 2021-2022 timeframe. As far as Open RAN trials are underway in multiple markets around the world and currently are proven in low-density areas, urban Open RAN for network modernization and upgrades to 5G will follow suit with governments and operators to scale this for functionality and efficiency. This technology will start to impact the way business models evolve insofar as more proven cases are coming out.
 TIP consolidates OpenRAN work as demand accelerates, October 6, 2020, https://www.telecompaper.com/news/tip-consolidates-openran-work-as-demand-accelerates--1356773