IBM launches open RAN trial with Telefónica Argentina

IBM led the systems integration for the project that brings together many different components and systems from multiple hardware and software vendors. (Pixabay)

IBM and Telefónica Argentina (Movistar) announced a live, fully functional open RAN network that will serve as a proof of concept (PoC) for bringing commercial mobile services to the city of Puerto Madryn.

It’s one of the earliest implementations of this kind of network, offering service on a 24x7 basis to some 80,000 people in the coastal region.

IBM served as systems integrator, which many see as a key enabler in open RAN, as operators look for one entity to manage many parts coming from myriad sources.

Part of the allure of open RAN is operators can mix and match hardware and software from different vendors, but that also leads to the problem of which vendor to call when things go awry. Plus, some operators are looking for an entity to manage all the components rather than take that on themselves.

IBM says its technology and expertise are enabling mobile operators around the globe to manage network functions and data applications across various private and public cloud environments. 

This project in South America encompasses many vendors, including Altiostar, Red Hat, Quanta, Gigatera and Kontron, which were involved in the pre-integration and enabling of the end-to-end deployment. Unlike so many traditional networks that were based on proprietary gear, this one does not include Ericsson, Nokia or Huawei.

RELATED: Samsung, IBM collaborate on edge computing, 5G

IBM has been involved in open RAN for several years now, and this is just one of its many projects. It’s a member of the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), the O-RAN Alliance, and the Open RAN Policy Coalition, among other endeavors, according to Marisa Viveros, vice president of Strategy & Offerings for the Telecom, Media and Entertainment Industry at IBM..

Viveros said it’s encouraging that there’s a lot more collaboration among the different standards and operator groups working on these concepts. “I see much more collaboration across all the different groups, which definitely helps the industry,” she said.

Early on in the pandemic, a lot of folks thought it would delay the deployment of 5G and open RAN, but “what we are seeing is an acceleration just because of the sheer fact that … everybody needs to be connected,” she said. “Everybody needs to be communicating more than ever.”

Last month, IBM announced a new Center of Excellence in Spain, which is specializing in open RAN. The center expects to employ more than 500 open RAN professionals over the next three years, including cloud developers and telecom engineers in the areas of RF design, MIMO and O-RAN delivery. That center also will be leveraging the expertise of IBM labs in Dallas, Texas, and Nice, France.