Open RAN is a new way for operators to build a mobile network infrastructure. It brings interoperability, flexibility, automation and innovation to RAN. To take full advantage of these benefits, operators should pursue a Cloud Native Virtual RAN (vRAN) implementation.
To explore how and why operators are likely to deploy an open vRAN, Heavy Reading conducted an operator survey in association with QCT. The data was collected in November and covers the North American, European and Asian operators surveyed in roughly equal proportions.
The graph below shows the response to the first question in the survey, which looked at the business rationale for open RAN.
What is the most important business rationale for open RAN initiatives in your company?
Operators clearly have a wide variety of reasons for investing in open RAN. The main response is âbetter and faster control over feature developmentâ with 25%, just ahead of âincreasing supplier diversityâ (21%) and ânew service and monetization opportunitiesâ (20%). The lack of a compelling reason to pursue open RAN is consistent with previous investigations by heavy read operators. These results indicate that the business case will be based on an accumulation of benefits that will deliver value over a traditional single-vendor RAN. They also indicate that the open RAN has not yet found ?? or at least, has not yet proven itself ?? a compelling business rationale and that this diversity of viewpoints reflects an ongoing search for a business case.
Interestingly, cost savings rank so far down the list of business reasons. There are probably two explanations for this:
- Open RAN has a nomenclature similar to that of the classic single-vendor RAN.
- Operators in major markets, in Heavy Reading’s experience, will not compromise on user experience just to save a small percentage on RAN equipment costs.
Switch to cloud native vRAN ?? that is, RAN software deployed in containers and centrally orchestrated ?? the survey asked when operators plan to deploy a containerized distributed unit (DU) vRAN application in their commercial network. The results, as shown in the graph below, are surprising in their positivity. A 21% bull says it “deploys now” and an additional 34% “will deploy in a year.”
When do you plan to deploy a containerized DU vRAN application in your commercial network?
At first glance, this seems overly optimistic. It is possible that respondents did not read the question carefully and simply assumed that the question referred to vRAN in general as opposed to specifically containerized deployments (and even so, that would be a bullish answer). However, containerized DU products are now available and are commercially deployed and operational. And Heavy Reading expects the deployment of this technology to evolve rapidly. So even though this data looks bullish on the timeline, it is a good indicator of the sentiment of traders who, by nature of responding to the survey, are likely to already be positive on vRAN.
Operators must deploy RAN software ?? either in virtual machines, containers or both ?? on cloud infrastructure. A key decision is therefore which software infrastructure platform to use.
The table below shows the three main preferences of operators.
What cloud infrastructure software solution is your company currently using or planning to use for your commercial vRAN deployment?
Red Hat (34%) and VMware (24%) are two popular options for vRAN cloud infrastructure software. These are well known solutions in the telco cloud and core network, and it makes sense that operators will want to extend their existing telco cloud to the edge to support vRAN. A third interesting option also emerges from these data. Wind River, which offers cloud infrastructure software focused on smaller footprint edge devices that can be optimized for RAN applications, also scores high at 31%. This is consistent with several Tier 1 operator vRAN agreements that publicly refer to Wind River.
For vRAN software vendors and DU server vendors who want to accelerate open vRAN deployments, the top three cloud environments to pre-integrate with appear to be Red Hat, VMware, and Wind River.
To learn more about this survey of Heavy Reading operators, sign up for the archived Light Reading webinar on Cloud Native Open RAN design and deployment.
?? Gabriel Brown, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading
This blog is sponsored by QCT and Intel.