O-RAN at MWC: A minimum viable profile, processors and more

BARCELONA—Open radio access networks have been a major theme at this week’s Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2024. Not only was an O-RAN Alliance meeting held in conjunction with MWC, but a number of announcements indicate the continued development of the ecosystem.

According to O-RAN Alliance, during the course of MWC Barcelona there have been more than 40 demonstrations of the latest improvements to Open RAN, from security and proving out energy efficiency, to showcases of O-RAN integration and testing of the RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) as well as O-RAN test automation.

Among the most significant announcements was one from ATIS that might be overlooked among the news about Telecom Egypt testing the first successful O-RAN LTE call in North Africa, supported by Rakuten Symphony, or NTT DoCoMo choosing AWS to deploy 5G O-RAN—but it has broader market implications than any single test or proof-of-concept. ATIS, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, is bringing together a group of system developers and network operators to define a Minimum Viable Profile, or MVP, for Open RAN in the North American market — in other words, a common set of baseline capabilities that vendors can use as indicative of what North American carriers require in O-RAN solutions. According to ATIS, the MVP “will identify MNOs’ common requirements including architecture, feature/function definition, and associated performance and interoperability requirements needed to develop, integrate, and simplify baseline Open RAN solutions.” The MVP will “frame the most common and critical equipment requirements for Open RAN solutions,” the group added.

The urgency from the industry is such that ATIS aims to have the O-RAN MVP developed by mid-2024.

“ATIS has a strong record of bringing the industry together to deliver fast-tracked, collaborative results,” said ATIS President and CEO Susan Miller, adding that the MVP “will enable any supplier, including new entrants, to offer their innovations in the North American equipment marketplace.

“The MVP is a vehicle to both inform and drive rapid development of ‘carrier grade’ equipment for the U.S. — and potentially global — Open RAN markets,” Miller continued. “Once established, suppliers may use the MVP as a baseline to build products that, packaged with a company’s unique technology innovations, performance capabilities, and ability to serve an MNO at scale, make them a viable option for an MNO seeking to deploy Open RAN solutions.”

Here are a few among the slew of O-RAN news:

-SoftBank, NEC and VMware announced that they have jointly verified RAN virtualization by converging telco cloud with an O-RAN architecture. The joint project focused on using a general-purpose common infrastructure defined by SoftBank, virtualized RAN applications using O-RAN architecture by NEC (CU and DU) and a vRAN platform optimized for VMware’s Telco Cloud platform, according to the partners.

-Solutions by stc, a Saudi IT solutions provider that is part of stc Group, lined up an Open RAN agreement with Mavenir to launch the first commercial Open RAN network in Saudi Arabia, which is expected to go commercial this year.

-Nokia radios will be deployed in support of Rakuten Mobile’s Open RAN network expansion into the 700 MHz band (full story here).

-Marvell, Dell Technologies, Fujitsu and Wind River announced that they worked jointly to develop Open RAN solutions that will be used in NTT DoCoMo’s Open RAN network.

-Intel, whose processors have been supporting a number of vRAN and O-RAN developments, said that its next Intel Xeon platform, Granite Rapids–D, will be available in 2025 and deliver “significant gains in vRAN performance and power efficiency” by relying in part on artificial intelligence (another major theme at MWC). Network equipment manufacturers including Samsung and Ericsson are already testing the processors, Intel said, adding that it is also working with Dell Technologies, HPE, Lenovo, Mavenir, Red Hat, Wind River and others to ensure market readiness for next year.

-Intel is also working on developing and validating massive MIMO beamforming designs for O-RAN networks, using test offerings from Keysight Technologies.

-Test company Viavi Solutions was part of O-RAN demos at multiple booths and announced a joint Testbed as a Service (TBaaS) with VMware that leverages Viavi’s TeraVM RIC Test solution with VMware’s RIC to create a digital twin that can be used to benchmark and evaluate the performance of applications.

According to a Dell’Oro Group report released in early February, Open RAN revenues are on track to decline in 2023 amid an overall RAN market slow-down. But, the analyst firm added, the long-term outlook for the technology continues to be positive, with Open RAN expected to account for 20-30% of global RAN revenues by 2028, compared to 7-10% in 2024.

“Current growth deceleration combined with the increased acceptance that Open RAN is not some kind of magic solution that will significantly alter barriers to entry or overall market concentration, is prompting more questions about the rationale behind Open RAN,” said Stefan Pongratz, VP and analyst at Dell’Oro Group. “The fundamental assumptions shaping the role Open RAN will play in this RAN journey have not changed. Over time, operators will incorporate more virtualization, intelligence, automation, and O-RAN into their RAN roadmaps.”

ABI Research anticipates similar numbers for O-RAN revenues this year: About 6-8% of the global market. While companies including Mavenir, NEC, Samsung, Rakuten Symphony and Fujitsu are jockeying for position in the market, traditional NEMs aren’t sitting back and letting them take it (see Ericsson’s recent massive deal with AT&T to support an O-RAN-compatible network platform). “Considering their global presence in the RAN market, Nokia and Ericsson are in a solid position to carry out massive-scale open RAN deployments in the next few years,” said ABI Research in a release, noting the Ericsson deal and also adding that “Nokia is partnering with Tier-1 operators, including DT and NTT DOCOMO, and open RAN vendors, including Mavenir, to accelerate their open RAN footprint worldwide.”

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