This trend of disaggregation, virtualization and commoditization has implications beyond just Open RAN. 5G was intentionally designed to be flexible and adaptable. As such, the networks have to mirror that as does the way services are developed and deployed.
“If you really want to deliver the promise of 5G and multiple use cases, to make sure you can satisfy use cases with very different requirements, you need to have two things happening in the network,” Thierry Maupilé of Altiostar said. “Great flexibility in how you are going to deploy different network functions…You can put those network elements wherever you want.” And, “The network has to become a platform and the platform has to expose the APIs that have never been exposed before. The ecosystem which is going to sit above is more aligned with different verticals–healthcare or retail or automotive or manufacturing–so you can write applications on this network for a particular use case.”
Dan Rabinovitsj from Facebook Connectivity also called out two key points at the intersection of 5G and Open RAN: the focus on driving down TCO for the entire telecom stack, and allowing operators to build the engineering muscles necessary to deliver new, value-added services. The industry should use this moment “to reshape the way the networks operate and the way they’re deployed. Use this 5G moment to just completely change all the ways they’ve been building out and deploying networks. There is this potential now with the way the RAN is architected. We have this ability to move more and more of this processing closer to the edge of the network. There’s a real advantage to that in terms of developing very specific services.”
Ganesh Shenbagaraman of Radisys also picked up on moving intelligence to the network edge in service of deployment and service flexibility, but said there’s still work to be done to realize this. “It is something that’s still evolving–how to enable this. The talk about hosting services closer to the edge has been around and a lot of players have emerged. What is not there yet, I would say, is crystallization in terms of the standard, templatized architectures that can serve for different use cases. There seems to be any number of ways to achieve the same solution. There’s too much fluidity today about how to address those edge use cases but some patterns are emerging.”
He further highlighted the importance of making the involved technologies easy to consume, which harkens back to the key role of system integration. “There has to be a level of simplification. The key thing here is making it more robust in terms of managing the solution.”
“Edge computing and the applications people are excited about with edge computing are kind of the end goal here,” Sacchin Katti of VMware explained. “We want to bring the cloud to the RAN…with the goal that eventually applications can leverage the cloud all the way to the edge to run things you cannot do today. Apart from having a cloud platform that you can run these cloud applications on at the edge, the other thing we’re focusing on is these applications don’t just sit alongside the RAN; they can interact with the RAN.”
In previous conversation, Intel’s CarolineChan has characterized 5G, AI and edge compute all as key to digital transformation. “I really see 5G connectivity as an enabler but edge compute and AI is really the angle for the operator to have that ROI. Everything that we’re building has the compute capability, has the storage capability.”
Beyond Open RAN, Rakuten Mobile’s Tareq Amin is focused on network automation which he called the “main scale differentiator.” He sketched out Rakuten Mobile’s roadmap: process automation, cognitive process automation, introduction of virtual agents and analytics, and AI/ML-based execution.
“This is not a whitepaper,” he said during a webinar presentation. “This is within grasp.” But to achieve the goals of network self-management and healing, “collaboration and ecosystem” are imperative. “What happens if entire telco networks become commoditized? The functions and the application onboarding becomes easier. The advancements that happen in software and the excitement we have about Open RAN is not just simply and purely about the fact that I’m just opening the [radio]interfaces. It’s about the future possibilities when these networks become fully autonomous.”