2019 Preview: Open RAN efforts gain momentum

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our 2019 Preview feature, which looks at the big topics facing the industry next year. Click here for the 2019 preview in the wireless industry, click here for the 2019 preview in the video industry and click here for the 2019 preview in the wireline industry.

Perhaps nowhere is disruption more evident than in the efforts around the radio access network (RAN) and freeing that up for more competition. Advocates for the Open RAN characterize it as an evolution rather than a revolution, and they undoubtedly are on a mission to transform the way communications networks are built.

There’s a lot of action occurring on several fronts, and more convergence is likely in 2019.

Some convergence already started in 2018. The xRAN Forum announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona its intent to merge with the C-RAN Alliance to form the O-RAN Alliance, a worldwide, carrier-led effort driving new levels of openness in the RAN. Their main objective was to come up with an alternative to CPRI, which is what held the industry in vendor lock-in for many years. CPRI created a world where the remote radio unit from one vendor was unable to feasibly communicate with the baseband unit of another vendor. Now, efforts are underway to change that dynamic in a big way.

Around the same time as the xRAN's announcement, Cisco unveiled plans to form a multivendor ecosystem designed to address issues and accelerate the viability and adoption of Open vRAN solutions, with initial participants including Altiostar, Aricent, Intel, Mavenir, Phazr, Red Hat and Tech Mahindra.

Not satisfied with existing efforts, Mavenir in October announced its Open RAN partner ecosystem to provide more options for operators intent on deploying a flexible cloud-based Open RAN solution; partners there include MTI, Tecore Networks, Baicells, NEC, AceAxis, KMW, Benetel, CommScope, Blue Danube Systems and Airrays.

With Open RAN reforms ongoing through the Telecom Infra Project, the Open Networking Foundation and the Linux Foundation Networking Fund, there’s a lot of speculation about how, when and where these activities may converge. 

By the end of 2018, the Small Cell Forum was calling on the cellular industry to adopt open air interface and networking standards to avoid fragmentation and ensure interoperability of equipment. Meanwhile, the O-RAN Alliance was gaining momentum, with Verizon being the latest U.S. operator to join the board, along with India’s Reliance Jio and Italy’s TIM.

O-RAN also announced that it’s working with The Linux Foundation to establish an open source software community for the creation of open source RAN software. Collaboration with The Linux Foundation will enable the creation of open source software supporting the O-RAN architecture and interfaces.