Open RAN Policy Coalition
In May this year, the Open RAN Policy Coalition was established to advocate for “vendor choice and flexibility in next-generation network deployments,” as Executive Director Diane Rinaldo put it at the time. This is necessary, she said, “from a security and performance standpoint. By promoting policies that standardize and develop open interfaces, we can ensure interoperability and security across different players and potentially lower the barrier to entry for new innovators.”
The founding members were: Airspan, Altiostar, AWS, AT&T, Cisco, CommScope, Dell, DISH Network, Facebook, Fujitsu, Google, IBM, Intel, Juniper Networks, Mavenir, Microsoft, NEC Corporation, NewEdge Signal Solutions, NTT, Oracle, Parallel Wireless, Qualcomm, Rakuten, Samsung Electronics America, Telefónica, US Ignite, Verizon, VMWare, Vodafone, World Wide Technology, and XCOM-Labs.
Shortly after its launch, Nokia joined the group. Brian Hendricks, Nokia’s VP of government relations in the Americas, in discussing the incumbent vendor’s move to join, described an emerging narrative wherein the Open RAN ecosystem has created a falsely adversarial relationship between legacy vendors “and, on the other side, folks that wanted to create a new ecosystem.”
There is a sense among policymakers, he continued, where, “They felt like they’d be making a choice. If they did things that were more supportive of an acceleration of openness that they’d be harming us. We don’t think that’s true either.” In joining the Open RAN Policy Coalition, Hendricks said, Nokia is saying, “Let’s eliminate the point that we’re not together as an ecosystem and, perhaps, that provides an impetus for action.”
The initial slate expanded in June with new members Ciena, Cohere Technologies, Crown Castle, DeepSig, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, JMA Wireless, Marvell Technology Group, Nokia, Pivotal Commware, Quanta Cloud Technology, Radisys, Reliance Jio, Robin.io and U.S. Cellular.
Since forming, the Open RAN Policy Coalition has worked with policymakers to gather support for “new and existing” vendors; establish a global pool of “trusted suppliers and service providers;” and foster U.S. “technological leadership both in 5G and future wireless network development.”
Parallel Wireless CEO Steve Papa has emerged as a strong proponent of governmental machinations that could bolster the U.S.’s position in 5G tech particularly as it relates to Chinese companies and the Chinese government-led investment. Papa explained that Open RAN is allowing “more innovators to participate, which is good. But more importantly, the U.S. government is waking up to its role in supporting the semiconductor market.” He has called out the Made in China 2025 focus on developing semiconductor expertise and other moves he characterized as “a state actor tipping the playing field…Our commercial market in communications infrastructure equipment is being distorted by a state actor. We can let that happen or we can counter it in a similar way.”
Mavenir’s John Baker, SVP of business development, discussing the Open RAN Policy Coalition’s launch, described the group as not focused on “setting mandates to force people to do things. It’s purely a recommendation to ensure the industry takes the right precautions, if you like, in going forward in terms of building up the industry and widening the supply chain.”
Baker said interoperability is key to building up a more robust global supply chain. “That’s what the whole Policy Coalition is about. Let the vendor community decide whether they want to compete in the space or not.”
While Ericsson has a formidable presence in 5G networking with more than 100 global carrier contracts, as well as an ever-advancing set of vRAN, cloud RAN and attendant products, it has not thrown in with the Policy Coalition. In a statement to RCR Wireless News issued in May, the Swedish vendor said it believes in “openness and that product architecture needs to evolve to support open interfaces and a multitude of use cases in the future…[But] this evolution needs to be based on open standards and the strong foundation built by 3GPP, which has enabled the most widely adopted global technology with over 8 billion mobile subscriptions. 3GPP is also unique as anyone can enter on FRAND terms. This has led to a highly competitive and consolidated RAN market. Similar consolidation can also be observed in other parts of the industry, including operations systems, chipsets and devices. Furthermore, Ericsson is actively contributing to O-RAN and ONAP to further spur innovation, bringing forward global scale with a strong ecosystem. We believe in open and fair competition. To stay ahead in the 5G race, the U.S. and other governments should maintain their market-based approaches through technology-agnostic policies. The focus of policy makers needs to be on speeding up 5G deployment through spectrum allocation and removing network deployment barriers.”
The O-RAN Alliance formed in February 2018, a combination of the xRAN Forum and C-RAN Alliance, with founding operator members AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT Docomo and Orange. That membership has since expanded to include 22 additional operators and more than 180 contributing companies representing virtually every bit of domain expertise in the telecoms world.
The O-RAN Alliance is governed by a Technical Steering Committee that guides the work of nine working groups:
- Use cases and overall architecture workgroup
- Non-real time RIC and A1 interface workgroup
- Near-real time RIC and E2 interface workgroup
- Open fronthaul interfaces workgroup
- Open F1/W1/E1X2/Xn workgroup
- Cloudification and orchestration workgroup
- White-box hardware workgroup
- Stack reference design workgroup
- Open X-haul transport workgroup
The group’s work adheres to two “core principles,” openness and intelligence. According to O-RAN Alliance, “Future RANs will be built on a foundation of virtualized network elements, white-box hardware and standardized interfaces that fully embrace O-RAN’s core principles of intelligence and openness. An ecosystem of innovative new products is already emerging that will form the underpinnings of the multi-vendor, interoperable, autonomous RAN, envisioned by many in the past, but only now enabled by the global industry-wide vision, commitment and leadership of O-RAN Alliance members and contributors.”
To date, O-RAN Alliance has published more than 50 specifications ranging from DU-CU architecture and APIs and indoor picocell hardware architecture and requirements for sub-6 GHz to cloud architecture and deployment scenarios for open vRAN and AI/ML workflow description and requirements.
Telecom Infra Project
The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) got its start in 2016 by Facebook and rather than the specification work O-RAN Alliance engages in, TIP focuses its efforts on building and deploying infrastructure “to advance global connectivity.” The group is dedicated to expanding the reach and quality of connectivity–connecting the unconnected. According to TIP, “Half of the world’s population is still not connected to the internet…This limits access to the multitude of consumer and commercial benefits provided by the internet, thereby impacting GDP growth globally. However, a lack of flexibility in the current solutions–exacerbated by a limited choice in technology providers–makes it challenging for operators to efficiently build and upgrade networks.”
The TIP board of directors is made up of:
- TIP Chairman and President Yago Tenorio, head of network strategy and architecture, Vodafone
- Aaron Bernstein, director of connectivity ecosystem programs, Facebook
- Caroline Chan, vice president and general manager, 5G Infrastructure Division, Network Platforms Group, Intel
- David Del Val Latorre, director of product innovation, Telefónica
- Adburazak Mudesir, senior vice president of technology architecture and innovation, Deutsche Telekom
- Howard Watson, CEO of technology, service and operations, BT
TIP is organized into three broad project groups–access, transport, and core and services. Here we’ll focus on the access project sub-groups:
- OpenRAN works to “define and build 2G, 3G and 4G RAN solutions based on general-purpose hardware and software-defined technology.”
- OpenRAN 5G NR works to “define a whitebox platform for a 5G NR access point that is easy to configure and deploy.”
To get an understanding of how TIP is translating its collaborative work into field trials, consider Vodafone; the operator has engaged in trial activity in Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.K. and Ireland. Indosat Ooredoo and Smartfren are working on OpenRAN in Indonesia. Related work is going on in Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and North America.
Another key TIP development is the Evenstar project, announced in February this year. Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, MTI, AceAxis and Facebook Connectivity collaborated on the Evenstar RRU for 4G and 5G Open RAN deployments.
Facebook Connectivity Vice President Dan Rabinovitsj discussed the social media giant’s role in TIP and how the focus isn’t finding a silver bullet for connecting the 3.5 billion people that don’t have access to reliable broadband, but rather “investing in a building block strategy” and recognizing the economic realities requiring this paradigm shift.
Building networks, from acquiring the spectrum to deploying, densifying and upgrading, is incredibly expensive and moving to a cloud-based network and webscale operation can address that. With Evenstar, Rabinovitsj said, “The investment we’re making today is basically to make sure a number of OEMs can take advantage of common, proven hardware SKUs…This is a way that we can accelerate the availability of competitive SKUs that can be shipped all over the world for both rural applications and dense urban.”