I recently held a roundtable with leading Open RAN experts at Spirent to discuss where ORAN stands today.
You’ll want to watch the full roundtable (four 10-to-15-minute sessions) to get all the details of this in-depth roundtable series, but in this post, I’ll summarize some of what I and the other Open RAN veterans here at Spirent discussed.
About the roundtable
We held this important event in Manhattan at the end of 2021. Included on the panel were five Spirent Open RAN experts:
Stephen Douglas – Head of Market Strategy
James Kimery – Vice President of Product Management
Anil Kollipara – Senior Director of Product Management
Anand Ram – Vice President of Business Development for Calnex, Spirent’s Technology Partner for Network Synchronization and Emulation Test Instruments
Clark Whitty – Principal Product Line Manager
Each of the four sessions touched on a variety of interesting areas. Here are a few topics from each session:
Session one: Where ORAN stands today
Stephen Douglas spoke about how the market today is comprised of small, early deployments, often from large service providers (SPs), to help them tip their toes in the water and begin to understand the challenges and benefits of Open RAN.
Stephen explained that these are often deployed in rural locations, or potentially even indoor, with small cells. Starting small and out of the way lowers the risk. SPs have the macro-network there as an underlay to pick up if things don't work right, and there's much less traffic on these networks.
That said, Stephen talked about how we’ll see a shift to Open RAN being deployed more aggressively over the next three to four years. He spoke of a future where SPs will deploy more dense Open RAN networks. He predicts that within this horizon, Open RAN will represent 10-15% of the market, and that by ten years out Open RAN will comprise the majority of the market.
In other words, today Open RAN is still in its infancy and still very much about proving itself out. Is it reliable? Is it inter-operable? Is it robust? Is it performant? How are we going to properly operate it in a secure and efficient way?
Session two: Why engineering silos must come down with ORAN
One of the discussions I found interesting in session two was when I asked Clark Whitty a provocative question: How do you manage the need to deliver services to market quickly with testing and assurance? Shouldn't some of that be done in-house by engineering? And how do you not slow down those development, engineering, and test teams with a focus on assurance? What's that balancing act like?
Clark said this really screams for the need to bring down silos between different ecosystem partners and to share and collaborate in testing and configuration. He continued that this has to happen across the entire continuum of development, deployment, and optimization.
Further, Clark is seeing the need to use automation on all three stages of the pipeline. He argues that this is essential in order to have continuous validation across the lifecycle. In addition, test environments must be open and shared. Otherwise, innovation becomes stifled. Looking at technology in silos is simply destined for failure.
Session three: With ORAN, timing and synchronization are more important than ever
I asked Anand about the importance of synchronization and timing for Open RAN and if there was any one thing he finds the marketing may be neglecting in these areas.
Anand mentioned the one thing that is often forgotten during 5G and Open RAN deployment is precision timing and synchronization. It's a fundamental requirement, but it's slightly buried under the surface, and therefore often neglected.
Anand explained that there are a lot of new players in Open RAN, which is, of course, one of the goals. But not everybody has the expertise to be able to achieve Open RAN and 5G levels of precision. What needs to happen is two-fold.
We first have to structure standards and methodologies to test against. We also must develop design methodologies that enable vendors to achieve appropriate performance. There are several standards bodies that work together to define these standards. We are finding we can add value by explaining the methodologies and standards, providing the systems for test against these standards.
It is a significant education process.
Session four: Three Open RAN critical success factors you need to understand
I asked a crucial question: What are the top three things vendors really need to understand about testing the Open RAN?
Anil went into detail on the three most crucial things he feels vendors need to recognize. You’ll need to watch session four to see the full details, but the key things Anil discusses are:
The rate of change to the ORAN network is unprecedented. There are more vendors that ever (horizontally and vertically), and faster innovation.
You must proactively monitor SLAs. 5G offers differentiated performance, and if your customer is paying for top performance, you’ll need to assure that is what they receive.
Finally, building on the second point, it isn't enough to spot performance gaps, you have to set yourself up to rapidly find the root cause and fix the problem.