The 21st century communications landscape has been characterized by virtualization and digital transformation, as well as a preference for open source technologies rather than proprietary, monolithic solutions. The radio access network (RAN) is no exception: Open, virtualized RAN (vRAN) solutions give telecom operators the ability to realize performance gains, intelligence, fast adaptability, and dual connectivity between 4G and the forthcoming 5G network—all with a smaller price tag, compared with traditional hardware solutions. The open vRAN is a transformative technology, and it rises from a profound shift in the way mobile networks have been architected for decades.
The Open Approach
The traditional approach to RAN deployments involved large vendors creating proprietary hardware, and two or three vendors monopolizing the provision of those solutions. But in the era of virtualization, 5G, and cloud-native applications, operators are faced with the reality of a radically changing landscape. Legacy architectures have outlived their usefulness, essentially blocking the path toward technological advancement. Operators are going to have to think about their RANs much differently and start making the changes necessary to enable new services, exciting business models, and stronger economics.
The industry is experiencing a fundamental change in RAN architecture, evolving to open interfaces, disaggregating hardware and software, and virtualizing everything—enabling a platform that is ready to take on the intensive demands of 5G use cases and services such as network slicing, massive Internet of Things (IoT), and industrial IoT (IIoT). Essential enterprise components such as compute, storage, and analytics are getting distributed throughout the network, and to enable those evolutionary steps, connectivity must also be disaggregated. Industry consensus is that this open approach is the right method to embark on essential innovation in this communications era.
“The key is that we’ve opened up the 5G core,” said Ian Hood, Chief Technologist, Global Service Provider, Red Hat, at Mobile World Congress (MWC) Americas 2019. “Now we need to effectively take IP and Ethernet out to the edge. That way, we’ll have an open platform to optimize the virtualized radio network so that we can put more services on it faster—and not just radio capabilities but enterprise applications, very close to that RAN.”
The Open Ecosystem
The RAN market has traditionally involved only a few players, but as the landscape shifts to an open paradigm, the number of players joining the open vRAN market is exploding—a very healthy development for a new kind of ecosystem. A strong group of active participants brings unprecedented innovation, open collaboration, and new ideas, all of which are vital to a 5G future that demands constant transformation and eager experimentation.
Multiple vendors working together offers customers unprecedented choice in their vRAN solution. “Choice gives customers best-of-breed technologies, the ability to pick and choose,” said Hood. “And that leads to cost benefits on both sides of the equation. The faster you get to market, the faster you get to revenue; the speed of orchestration to turn out sites more quickly improves that dynamic. At Red Hat, we have customers making changes to services in minutes—services that used to take days or months. That speed of change to the end customer also maintains the customer relationship.”
Red Hat has embarked on a number of strategic partnerships in this exciting ecosystem, specifically with other forward-leaning companies such as Intel and Altiostar. (Watch representatives from all three companies discuss how they’re shaking up the open vRAN market.) The prevailing wisdom is that RAN migrations are happening today at a rapid pace, and customers are craving a reliable network of partners and established infrastructure platforms in order to modernize their enterprise environments.
A powerful example of vendor collaboration evolving to meet today’s market needs is Rakuten’s greenfield network, deployed in Japan earlier this year. The company involved a roster of vendors—including Red Hat, which provided open-source software—to help launch a brand-new, fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile network built to meet the demands of coming 5G use cases. Essentially, Rakuten built an ecosystem of vendors with a common vision: to overcome the challenges of a complicated new technology. And that goal was achieved.
The Open Future
Red Hat is excited to be an active player in the open vRAN space, working tirelessly on real-life solutions and sharing its findings with the world. Incredible work is coming out of Red Hat’s participation in this ecosystem, as evidenced by the white paper “Economic Advantages of Virtualizing the RAN in Mobile Operators’ Infrastructures.” The 5G edge and vRAN are changing the telecommunications game, and Red Hat’s myriad conversations with customers have revealed that it’s simply not feasible to do things the old-fashioned way.
On Thursday, December 12, the companies represented in the MWC 2019 video will take part in a brand-new webinar hosted by 451 Research, titled “Cloudify Your Mobile Network—Transitioning to Open RAN for Established MNOs.” These companies are in the open vRAN effort together—to help their mobile operators and carriers be successful. They’re communicating their findings, they’re releasing RFIs and RFPs, they’re embracing the open paradigm, they’re exploring new concepts with a shared vision. View the on-demand webinar, and see how the industry is leaping into the future today!