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23 September 2019

ORAN takes a significant step to commercial reality with testing initiative

Open network initiatives are always interesting and point the way in two important 5G trends – disaggregating the network, and ensuring that the resulting components can be mixed and matched from multiple vendors, to end the lock-ins and limited price competition that have characterized the mobile equipment business until now.

However, many organizations publish the specifications but fail to drive further into the large-scale commercial adoption that is essential for success. The ORAN Alliance, which is developing open specs based initially on AT&T code, is guarding against this risk by setting up a test and integration process, backed by significant vendors and operators.

This is important to establishing ORAN as something more than a call to arms against proprietary systems, or an interesting architecture. A coordinated testing program, especially if it results in certification, reduces the cost and risk for suppliers to develop products and ensure they are compliant; gives deployers confidence that their multivendor systems will be interoperable; and gets closer to a plug-and-play model, with readymade blueprints and pre-integrated systems, that can greatly reduce cost and time to roll-out, and can lower barriers for smaller or newer operators to enter the 5G market.

The new initiative is called Open Test and Integration Center (OTIC) and has been spearheaded by two large and influential operators which have been highly active in pushing open platforms – China Mobile and Reliance Jio (the latter, India’s disruptive new entrant, acquired a prominent open source developer and integrator, Radisys, last year to improve its resources in open networks).

Other public backers include China Telecom and China Unicom, plus an array of vendors – Intel, Radisys itself, Samsung Electronics, Airspan, Baicells, CertusNet, Mavenir, Lenovo, Ruijie Network, Inspur, Sylincom, WindRiver, ArrayComm and Chengdu NTS.

These will work together on processes to support multivendor interoperability and validation for ORAN-compliant disaggregated 5G access infrastructure. It will provide verification, integration and testing of disaggregated RAN components with the goal of achieving a plug-and-play model for its architecture.

“ORAN Alliance is driving RAN innovation to address operational efficiencies, mobile broadband traffic growth, and vertical industry requirements with the necessary flexibility and agility,” said Dr Li Zhengmao, EVP of China Mobile. “Its disaggregated architecture focuses on open interfaces, open source software, open hardware reference design, and embedded AI/ML and data analytics.”

The giant operator will set up an OTIC facility in Beijing, with the aim of accelerating the process of making systems “operationally ready to enable end-to-end interoperability and deployment in scale; as well as to be hardened for reliability, performance, scalability, and security.”

Mathew Oommen, president of Reliance Jio, added: “Jio has been able to fundamentally disrupt the telecom space. However we realize that disruption and innovation is a continuous process. We are fast-tracking our efforts in 5G and open technologies by developing and working with OTIC to accelerate the adoption of industry standard, interoperable ORAN-based deployments. The OTIC is an important step toward enabling the commercialization of the Open RAN Platform and the new model for wireless networks.”

The ORAN project is hosted by the Linux Foundation, whose general manager for networking, Arpit Joshipura, said: “We are excited to see the commitment to open platforms and the initiative to drive interoperability and validation of open RAN architectures and solutions through the OTICs along with Open Source Community ORAN-SC. This initiative will be a catalyst for a new paradigm to wireless networks.”

The initial activities will center on processes to ensure RAN components from multiple vendors support standard and open interfaces and can interoperate in accordance with ORAN test specifications.  Other projects will follow, and the founders are calling on other vendors and operators to join the initiative, in order to “advance the creation of ready-to-implement blueprints for RAN solutions conforming to the ORAN specifications in order to realize open and disaggregated 5G networks”.