The open RAN

Open RAN continues to be at the top of mind, and rightly so because it is the framework through which we funnel most of RAN innovation. It is becoming more than open-fronthaul interfaces and multi-vendor networks. The entire RAN ecosystem is opening, from the chipsets all the way to the system integration. The change affects all vendors and all operators, regardless of whether they are part of the canonical Open RAN ecosystem, and it will have a much wider and consequential impact than the fronthaul open interfaces that strictly speaking define Open RAN.

I call this “open RAN” and it will be the topic of my next report. I believe it is time to move beyond the endless discussion of what is and what is not Open RAN, or what features a network needs to be called “Open RAN”. Everybody seems to have a different definition of what counts as Open RAN, and that creates very different expectations of market share, adoption timeline and technical challenges. We often get stuck in polarized discussions that are not intellectually interesting and do not help us understand and promote technological progress.

Open RAN is a key element of the RAN evolution, but what is far more compelling is that the RAN (and the rest of the network) is becoming more open in all aspects, through disaggregation, virtualization and, yes, open interfaces.

Even if the DU and CU software is from the same vendor, the number of vendors needed to get the entire RAN to work keeps increasing. RIC, for instance, provides a platform for multiple vendors to provide xApps and rApps to manage a RAN. It can be an Open RAN or a single-vendor RAN. They can both benefit from RIC.

Some may think that the “open RAN” concept is a vague, catch-all concept that makes all RAN open and therefore it is a sure winner. I take the opposite view: we do not need a winner or a loser, we need a solid RAN evolution path that gives operators the flexibility they need to deploy the networks they want. Openness across all the network elements and layers is what gives them this flexibility. It started at the fronthaul interface, but it does not stop there.

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