What is Open RAN’s innovative potential? It is all about RIC.

The RIC is indispensable for Open RAN network programmability and automation.

Looking beyond the TCO benefits of Open RAN, the real value operators are pursuing (and vendors are attempting to prove and monetize) has to do with new, innovative methods of operating disaggregated networks. Consensus exists that, in terms of Open RAN, the RAN Intelligent Controller holds the most innovative potential (RIC). A good analogy, possibly coined by Baker, is comparable to an app store where operators can choose specific xApps and rApps that transform network telemetry into potential actionable steps for various types of optimizations.

Peter Claydon, president of Picocom, asserts that achieving this objective will also be the result of innovation. “As we’re seeing a great increase in complexity with 5G…being able to manage that complexity across different vendors is certainly an area where we can get innovation,” he said. To the RIC, “This provides a common interface to the RAN. So I think that’s an area where I think we see things happening.” 

The imminent increase of Open RAN application developers

xApps and rApps are automation tools for networks. They maximize the operational efficiency of the radio network. rApps are microservices that operate on the non-real-time RIC and are specialized. xApps and rApps provide crucial control and management functionality and features. Hosted on the near-real-time RIC, xApps optimize radio spectrum utilization.

The non-real-time RIC functions within the Service Management and Orchestration (SMO) framework of the RIC. This software performs a central function within the operator’s network. To provide policy-based guidance, the non-real-time RIC communicates with the near-real-time RIC’s counterpart applications, known as xApps.

Open software interfaces are supported by the SMO to facilitate rApp communications. This design prevents RAN software vendors from securing network functions. As part of a DevOps process, network automation software can and should be continuously updated and optimized.

Viavi Solutions’ O’Donnell referred to the RIC as “the playground” of Open RAN, where new players with specialized skills, such as xApp and rApp developers, will emerge. “We’re seeing research institutes, we’re seeing universities, we’re seeing startups who don’t have the background in telecoms because they don’t need to for some of the xApps and rApps that are being developed. One example would be energy saving or an energy consumption saving xApp—when do you switch off the transmitter, when can you power down cells, when can you switch users to different frequencies and take down part of the cell so you can have energy savings.” 

Open RAN data translated into enhanced customer experience

BT’s Chris Simcoe, director of Network Applications Architecture, said the operator “is very keen on what we can get out of the RIC.” However, he noted that using software-based intelligence in the lab is vastly different from doing so in the real world, using cell anomaly detection as an example. “You try and do those things in the lab with simulators, you just don’t get the behavior of actual people…And to that extent, I think that the intelligence and automation we can come up with may actually turn out to be very different in different countries based on user behavior.” 

Taking a broader view of the capability to comprehend and respond to granular user behavior in specific service areas, Simcoe called it “a real opportunity to tune the optimization very much down to those differences we see in user experience, not just urban, rural, that sort of thing, but very much based on user behavior that we see from our customers.” 

Beyond the RIC, he returned to the infrastructure-driven efficiencies that can be enabled by Open RAN. “Whenever we disaggregate things, we can potentially change the topology of the network. And usually that’s where we get gains in changing the cost structure of things as we roll out new technologies,” Simon said. 

Source: RCR Wireless

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