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1 September 2020

Operators continue to drive O-RAN forward with new trials and pledges

By Wireless Watch Staff

Operators may have their reservations about the progress in O-RAN, and their nervousness about open platforms in general, but a group of major MNOs is working hard to drive the ecosystem forward with major trials and commitments.

  • Among the latest, Turkcell has worked with virtualized RAN and core provider Mavenir to complete a fully containerized O-RAN call. This was achieved on Turkcell’s telco cloud, with Mavenir’s OpenRAN vRAN software integrated with the MNO’s core, and supporting the O-RAN Alliance’s preferred functional split, Split 7.2, between radio units and the virtualized baseband functions run in distributed or centralized units.

This will be the first workload to go live on Turkcell’s Edge Cloud and the operator is also deploying a cloud-native IMS solution from Mavenir to support 4G and 5G voice on virtual infrastructure.

Mikael Rylander, general manager of radio access products at Mavenir, commented: “The standard O-RAN 7.2 interface will enable and boost the OpenRAN ecosystem significantly by allowing many RRU vendors to be deployed and to have very effective solutions in all possible frequency bands with great deployment flexibility and with automation and remote operations.”

Turkcell’s CTO, Gediz Sezgin, added: “We are pleased to pioneer this technology with Mavenir by realising world’s first containerized implementation with a truly open architecture using a mix and match of open fronthaul supported RRU and CU/DU which reflects the true sense of open RAN.”

  • Rakuten, the flagship operator for the O-RAN cause, says it will soon unveil a Massive MIMO remote radio head for 5G, fully compliant with O-RAN specifications. The 32T32R radio/antenna has been co-developed by Rakuten with its main 5G radio supplier, NEC, and with Intel and will support 100 MHz channels to deliver up to 1.7Gbps throughput, plus digital beamforming and a compact form factor weighing just 22 kilograms.

CTO Tareq Amin claimed that the MIMO 32T32R panels are “exactly 50% the cost of traditional OEM infrastructure. For mmWave, honestly speaking, I think it’s even north of 60% cheaper.”

Amin is touting a cost model that relies on the operator assembling and integrating components from multiple suppliers rather than “paying a middle man” to supply a fully integrated solution, as the large OEMs do. He largely glossed over the costs of doing that integration inhouse, and pointed to the use of physical elements from NEC, Intel and Qualcomm, as well as software from Altiostar and others, to make up Rakuten’s 5G RAN. As well as modems for devices, Qualcomm is supplying the base station RF front end, which will enable 128-antenna arrays and analog beamforming.

It is unclear how far Rakuten’s radio head aligns with the open project being conducted under the auspices of Telecom Infra Project’s (TIP’s) OpenRAN project. This aims to have a remote radio head priced below $1,000 in the market in the first quarter of next year, although this is limited to 4T4R MIMO and likely to be targeted initially at rural and 4G deployments.

  • Vodafone has gone live with its first open RAN deployments in the UK, following the RFI process which it conducted last year under the auspices of TIP OpenRAN. The operator’s first site went live in rural mid-Wales. Like other early open RAN adopters like Orange and Telefonica, the initial emphasis is to put the new architectures through their paces in rural or remote areas where there is less risk to the main services, and more time and space to address problems.

The French operator, for instance, recently said it planned to roll out open RAN in rural areas of the Central African Republic.

“This is our first live OpenRAN site in the UK, and that’s an important milestone,” said Vodafone UK’s CTO Scott Petty. “This new approach has the ability to make us less dependent on current larger technology suppliers, and find ways to reduce the cost of rolling out mobile coverage. OpenRAN can also help close the digital divide between urban and rural Britain.”

  • AT&T is operating a commercial open RAN site in Dallas with equipment from Samsung and Ericsson, according to analysis by Signals Research Group (SRG). None of the companies would comment, but the SRG’s Mike Thelander and Emil Olbrich said they conducted a number of network tests in Dallas, and found it “encouraging to witness an open RAN deployment within the continental United States”.

They found that AT&T had deployed a Samsung millimeter wave radio at a few sites in downtown Dallas, connected to an Ericsson baseband unit. They were unable to confirm whether the fronthaul interface between the two was O-RAN, or just a multivendor implementation of CPRI, but AT&T was, of course, a founder member of the O-RAN Alliance and contributed the initial architecture and code.

As Thelander said in his report: “It is more relevant that AT&T is pushing its vendors to support a multivendor 5G NR network than whether they are compliant with a published O-RAN Alliance interface. At least they’re trying.”

However, the report judged that “performance could be better” on the Dallas site. Thelander said: “AT&T brought two vendors to the dance floor, but they have to figure out how to tango.”

  • Deutsche Telekom, Europe’s biggest operator, wants Germany’s government to mandate the use of O-RAN in new telecom legislation. And Telefónica’s CTIO Enrique Blanco says that, if current trials of O-RAN in Germany, Spain, the UK and Brazil go well, up to half of the company’s RAN investments between 2022 and 2025 will be in O-RAN.

Writing in a column for LightReading, he said the goal was to “ramp up towards the thousands of nodes in these markets”. Among the suppliers to its trials are vRAN software vendor Altiostar, and Gigatera Communications, a US-based provider of remote radio units based on Xilinx FPGA chips. The servers to support the baseband software are x86-based and come from Supermicro.