The telecom service providers typically follow the traditional path of adding one more layer to the network every time a new technology emerges. So, every few years, the telcos need to invest substantially to upgrade the networks to provide the latest technology and new use cases to their subscribers.
Increasingly, the telcos realise the limitations of this approach. It is counterproductive and money intensive. This is a hardware-driven approach with the communications service providers having to depend on a few vendors for their network infrastructure and equipment. Further, this is an expensive way of providing network services where a few network equipment vendors call the shots with little scope of adopting a new, innovative, and more cost-effective way of deploying and managing networks.
However, forever dropping call rates and reducing margins and competition from over-the-top (OTT) players mean that telcos need a fundamentally different approach to address these challenges. Further, with 5G on the horizon, which demands ubiquitous coverage and extremely low latency, the telcos need to explore newer methods of setting up networks for better cost-efficiency. The 5G also requires an open, programmable network that is agile and flexible to facilitate innovative use cases like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), smart cities and Industry 4.0. The legacy hardware-centric networks are unable to meet these requirements.
OpenRAN is emerging as a technology of choice to address these issues. Several global service providers, including MTN, Etisalat, Vodafone, and Telefonica, are already benefitting from this disruptive approach.
OpenRAN: Preparing the networks for new-age use cases
OpenRAN is an attempt not just to make the network more software-driven, but also to make it interoperable among multi-vendor equipment suppliers across different generations of networks.
In short, OpenRAN is an initiative to define RAN solutions based on ‘general-purpose vendor-neutral hardware and software-defined technology,’ as per Facebook’s telecom infra project, which was started to bring innovation to the radio access network part of the network.
This approach will help cut costs by reducing dependence on a limited set of vendors by disaggregating the hardware and software components of the infrastructure. This feature ensures that more efficient equipment from different vendors enter the fray and help telecom companies reduce their costs. OpenRAN also allows standardisation of the network infrastructure, making it cheaper and easier for telecom companies to implement changes in the network.
Apart from interoperability and disaggregation of hardware and software, OpenRAN promotes self-healing, self-configuration, and openness, which help the service providers to future-proof their investments. It makes deployments cloud-native, easy, and affordable to install, maintain, and upgrade to any future technology resulting in a potential reduction in cost by up to 30 per cent.
With this approach, the telcos no longer need to add a new layer for a new technology. A software upgrade, which doesn’t require a site visit, the telcos can upgrade the network whenever their subscribers are ready to adopt new technologies. It also makes it extremely easy for the service providers to bring new products and services to their subscribers.
Telcos across the globe have been warming up to this new approach to the telecom network. Several industry leaders are conducting the trials or are already using this approach to enhance network performance and cost-efficiency. The growing adoption points to the fact that it is going to be an integral part of the greenfield deployments.
Parallel Wireless has emerged as a pioneer in the OpenRAN space and is taking the lead in coming up with innovative and extremely relevant products by reimagining the networks. Its products have acquired several awards for innovation. Its 2G/3G/4G/5G OpenRAN Controller and Network software recently won Aegis Graham Bell Award in the `Innovation in Cloud’ category. Its OpenRAN solutions also won two Global Mobile Awards 2020 recently.
OpenRAN is likely to be adopted by more and more service providers, both greenfield and brownfield, over the next few years. This technology approach is going to be at the center of innovations. The telecom technology professionals who have the required skills will benefit by being a part of the OpenRAN revolution.
This is the time to develop skills in virtualisation, which is central to the concept of OpenRAN. As the telcos go about upgrading and modernising the networks for 5G, network simplification and better cost efficiency, this is one area that will generate new and exciting employment opportunities. The professionals looking to build a career in this space will do well to develop skills for this segment.
OpenRAN is transforming communications networks across the globe. It has clearly disrupted the market and promises to continue as the hottest trend in the telecom segment for several years to come. The time is then right to develop relevant skills for the networks of the future.