Open RAN: Technology, TCO, evolution paths

The list operators deploying or committed to deploy Open RAN continues to grow and there is widespread consensus that the RAN will become disaggregated, virtualized and centralized. But how will this happen? When? Will this reduce costs? Are there performance tradeoffs?

We have explored the RAN evolution towards Open RAN from all these perspectives. Our latest work is on the topology and deployment options that optimize the TCO. There is no single path to Open RAN. How can operators pick the one that optimizes their TCO? Each operator has different spectrum assets, demand distribution, transport and site costs, and technology strategies, and these are crucial factors in choosing the path to Open RAN that leads to the largest cost savings.

We built a detailed TCO model to explore different scenarios that mobile operators may face and published two papers to present some of our analysis. 

The first paper, “Which Open RAN is best for you? TCO tradeoffs: transport versus location”, looks at the impact of transport costs in choosing the RAN topology. Should an operator put the DU at the cell site, in a data center at the edge, or in a centralized location with the CU? If the operator has high transport costs, it is more cost effective to deploy the DU at the cell site. As transport costs go down, a centralized DU becomes the best option.

In the second paper, “What’s the best way to get to Open RAN? Optimizing pooling gains can reduce TCO by up to 42%”, we went one step further to see how operators facing different transport costs can maximize pooling gains for different 5G cell profiles. There are pooling gains for operators that deploy DUs at the cell site, and for those that co-locate DUs and CUs in a remote data centers, but they come from different sources. 

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