You might have come across the term Open RAN if you have been following news around 5G. Open Radio Access Network, or Open RAN, is a key part of a mobile network system that uses cellular radio connections to link individual devices to other parts of a network.
It comprises antennae, which transmits and receives signals to and from our smartphones or other compatible devices. The signal is then digitised in the RAN-base station and connected to the network.
In the traditional set-up, Radio Access Network is provided as an integrated platform of both hardware and software. Therefore, it is difficult to mix vendors for the radio and baseband unit, and in most cases, they come from the same supplier.
The idea of Open RAN is to change this, and enable operators to mix and match components.
It goes a step further by opening the interfaces inside the base station. The Open RAN architecture allows for the separation - or disaggregation - between hardware and software with open interfaces.
RAN has been based on proprietary technologies of original equipment makers such as Ericsson, Nokia, etc. With Open RAN, telecom players would have the flexibility to use in-house solutions or solutions from multiple vendors for RAN services.
This would allow telecom operators to look beyond traditional vendors, thus creating opportunities for lesser-known vendors from abroad as well as from home to be part of the growing 5G ecosystem, based on their innovation competence.
Network flexibility is another advantage of the Open RAN architecture. Being software-centric, it is scalable, agile and best of networks with improved network performance using artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Last, but not the least, is cost. Open RAN would reduce a telecom operator’s network deployment cost as it is interoperable with other networks such as 4G.
Open RAN is a new architecture, and not something that has been extensively tested. Therefore, there are several challenges in the path to implement Open RAN such as latency issues, operations and maintenance.
Since interoperability is at the core of Open RAN, the issue of latency might not show up in controlled environment testing but at a later stage when the architecture is pushed to its limits. Likewise, servicing and maintaining a multi-vendor architecture can also pose a big challenge for service providers.