Panel: 5G driving O-RAN but benefits can be seen in 4G

LOS ANGELES—5G makes the move to an open RAN architecture more urgent, but that doesn’t mean operators need to wait for 5G in order to see the benefits of an open system.

That was one of the takeaways from Thursday’s “RAN Innovation: How, Why and When” session during Mobile World Congress Americas 2018 (MWCA18) presented by FierceWireless.

Some important Open RAN (O-RAN) meetings are occurring on the sidelines of the MWCA18 event. Among the attendees: Hank Kakfa, vice president, Access Architecture and Standards at AT&T; and Sachin Katti, director, XRAN Foundation and a professor at Stanford University, both of whom participated in Thursday’s early morning session.

Kakfa said the RAN is one example to the approach to openness, but it doesn’t stand alone in the move. It also requires an orchestration platform like ONAP to coordinate virtualization and pretty much everything else. Plus,”you need an edge cloud to run it on” for edge compute and the virtualization of edge capabilities.

He also said the move to ORAN is not going to happen all at once. It requires various steps along the way as they work to define an open architecture.

RELATED: xRAN Forum updates methods for delivering RRU, BBU interoperability

Some progress already has been made, though. In April, the xRAN Forum announced the approval and public availability of the xRAN Fronthaul Specification Version 1.0, the first specification to come from the group since xRAN launched in October 2016.  

RELATED: Verizon committed to Open RAN efforts despite not being in O-RAN Alliance

The specification defines open interfaces between the remote radio unit/head (RRU/RRH), the baseband unit (BBU) and the operation and management (OAM) interface to simplify interoperability between suppliers. It’s significant because traditionally, the RRU and BBU had to come from the same vendor, but operators have been determined to remove the vendor lock-in that has permeated the industry for more than a decade.

The xRAN organization announced at Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona that it was merging with the C-RAN Alliance to form a worldwide, carrier-led effort to drive new levels of openness in the radio access network. Called the ORAN Alliance, one of its key principles is to lead the industry toward open, interoperable interfaces, RAN virtualization and big data-enabled RAN intelligence.