Nokia looks to RAN programmability, openness with new platform

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Nokia is launching the new platform with its own RIC xApps, but importantly it also supports external applications from different providers. (Nokia)

Nokia on Thursday introduced a new platform that combines O-RAN compliant RIC for more programmability in the radio access network alongside edge compute capabilities, on a single cloud-native platform.

Two main components of Nokia’s new Service Enablement Platform are the near-real-time RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) and multi-access edge compute (MEC). The platform can run on the edge and share infrastructure with Cloud RAN and other virtualized network functions, using Nokia’s AirFrame servers, according to the Finnish vendor.  

The SEP platform is available for service providers starting this quarter.

Nokia has been working on an O-RAN compliant RIC, proving the technology in trials including on AT&T’s live mmWave 5G network in New York this past summer. In 2019, the pair announced co-collaboration to create a software platform for the O-RAN Alliance-defined RIC and E2 interfaces.

More recently, in January China Mobile completed a trial leveraging Nokia’s RIC. The test confirmed traffic prediction with more than 90% accuracy in a live 5G network, and trialed network anomaly detection, examining 10,000 cells.

RELATED: AT&T, Nokia prove open RIC platform in live 5G network trial

RIC is meant to make the radio network more programable, enabling artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies for external applications (known as xApps) that can manage some aspects of the RAN without interruption through installed control applications.

Nokia is launching the new SEP with its own RIC xApps, but importantly the platform also supports external applications from different providers.  

The RIC allows xApps, or external applications, to control parts of the 4G and 5G RAN much more quickly than typical installed control applications, according to Nokia. An O-RAN-compliant RIC enables operators to integrate xApps from different sources and third parties to apply for various uses.

Nokia’s RIC xApps are a suite of plugins that include an advanced traffic steering AI/ML-based algorithm to optimize RAN traffic distribution and make it more efficient in a dynamic fashion.  It also includes an xApp for anomaly detection, using ML to identify and classify irregular behavior patterns in the RAN.  

Those are currently in proofs-of-concepts and trials with major service providers, with the aim of commercialization in 2021.

In the announcement, Daryl Schoolar, practice leader for Service Provider Networks at Omdia, commented that open RAN activity has evolved quickly over the last year.

“Nokia’s latest announcement about implementing the O-RAN standardized near real-time RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) function together with MEC on its Service Enablement Platform product which supports xApps from multiple sources, including third-party, reinforces Nokia´s firm commitment to O-RAN and Open RAN solutions,” Schoolar stated.

RELATED: Nokia commits to commercial products with open RAN interfaces

According to Nokia, its new platform also leverages low-latency data with closed-loop automation, providing enhanced optimization and faster deployments. Both enterprises and service providers can adapt the platform to suit their needs.

While external xApps can provide a variety of benefits, running them at the edge helps achieve extreme use-case needs. An earlier example from Nokia’s Michael Clever cited xApps enabling dedicated network slicing and RAN optimization, while MEC delivers ultra-low latency and allows critical content to be processed locally.

“Embracing open collaboration is key to the development of 5G use cases and harnessing the true power of the technology. Nokia’s Service Enablement Platform adds a new intelligence layer to the RAN and enables the creation of high-value add use cases,” said Pasi Toivanen, head of Edge Cloud BU at Nokia, in a statement. “We are committed to making it easier for our CSP customers to actively support the adoption of Open RAN principles and standards.”

Among the three leading global RAN vendors Nokia has been the one actively committed to open RAN, including interfaces for its existing AirScale RAN portfolio and 5G cloud RAN. Nokia was the first major RAN vendor to join the O-RAN Alliance and also it part of the Open RAN Policy Coalition.