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Collaboration is key to drive innovation in the global Open RAN ecosystem

Posted 27 Apr 2023

Collaboration is key to drive innovation in the global Open RAN ecosystem

By Sophie Weston, Senior Policy, Research and Engagement Manager 

Through groundbreaking programmes such as SONIC Labs, alongside R&D hubs, academia, and the wider telecoms industry, the ecosystem is collaboratively showcasing the UK’s strengths as a source of innovation in telecoms. To build on this, we must seek joint ambitions with other international alliances, share best practices and work together on manifesting initiatives for future networks. 

At the SONIC Labs Showcase on 29 March 2023, we took a deep dive into why sharing insights globally is important to accelerate innovation and further explore the development of future networks, more specifically, Open RAN. Our panel included national and international testing labs such as i14y (based in Berlin), the Institute for Telecommunications Sciences (ITS) (based in Boulder, Colorado in the US) and NEC (based in the UK) to share their experiences of developing and testing Open RAN and exploring the need for these initiatives to collaborate and come together.

My key takeaways from the panel session

Challenges remain to align on the development of Open RAN internationally:

  • Open RAN requires global alignment on standards to elaborate the full potential of deployment from the operator environment, as Open RAN needs scale global deployments to succeed. 
  • There is a need to foster a co-ordinated profile, create blueprints and make them available to those who will build the networks to take the complexity away from the end customer.
  • Collaboration is key to support Open RAN and to create a new supply chain.

We’re making progress to diversify the Open RAN ecosystem:

  • Within SONIC Labs we are looking at products at the earlier stage, with a technology readiness level between 5-7, meaning products that are working but not yet deployed in a commercial network, and we have seen a level of maturity that has increased.
  • In the US, for the ITS 5G Challenge, 9 people submitted applications in 2022. In 2023, over 23 applications were submitted which shows increased interest from vendors and there has been a lot of progress regarding the RIC and xApps within the US market.
  • To address a global market there needs to be a broad range of products. A few years ago there were very limited vendors providing solutions but that is now changing, there are now a wide range of vendors that have products that are viable and address the requirements within the market.
  • Technology diversification has also increased, more vendors are coming in and looking at how their process architecture can be used globally.
  • For the acceleration of Open RAN into the market, it would be beneficial to see more joint testing and to understand what could be gained from this testing. 

Overall, below are the key focus areas both nationally and internationally:

  • A joint ambition to accelerate and promote the technology of Open RAN. 
  • Focus on a higher technology readiness level (close to being ready for deployment in a live network) but we need a pipeline of vendors that have been through a level of testing and proving to come into the labs and be ready for the final step and qualification that the operators need. 
  • 5G, massive MIMO radios. 
  • To see blueprints from testing labs created to showcase vendors that are known to work with. 
  • Driving the complementarity and cooperation badges and avoiding too much repetition.
  • Open RAN End to end (e2e) market readiness which needs to align among the operators and the requirements. 
  • If there is a significant priority for softwarization, then there is a need to have repeatable testing for life cycle management, to keep softwarization up to date. 
  • Software build of materials that companies must provide to identify vulnerabilities in the supply chain. 
  • There are a number of labs and initiatives and all of them have in common the basic process of building components.

How we’re fostering collaboration within our SONIC Labs programme:

SONIC Labs has a variety of industry groups which share insights and early learnings in order to understand how to compliment each other and share testing methodologies. These range from Wireless Infrastructure Providers, Testbeds and Mobile Network Operators, and cover both national and international stakeholders.

The three core Industry Groups overall objectives are:

  • To support and encourage international companies to participate in the UK Open RAN market and collaboration with other international Open RAN facilities. Forming strategic relationships at regional, national and government level to share the UK’s ambitions for future telecoms and the role SONIC Labs plays within the UK for Open RAN development and solutions.
  • To encourage growth and investment in the UK telecom sector, support all players and organisations to maximise their role in the supply chain and innovate accordingly.
  • To continue to build telecoms skills and expertise in the UK, by carrying out and promoting the development, integration, management and operation of open and disaggregated multi-vendor networks, in both the hardware and software domains, such as Open RAN.
  • To provide opportunity for members to cooperate and offer a deployable solution to meet the growing 5G technology demand in the market.
  • To explore the development of new 5G use cases and increase demand for Open RAN solutions. 
  • Explore Industry and Government potential business for Open RAN suppliers. 

Open RAN World

As part of our global engagement and collaboration, we will be joining the wider telecoms ecosystem at Open RAN World this week. Paul Ceely, Directory of Technology Strategy and co-founder of SONIC Labs, will present insights on Open RAN and interoperability testing. Attend the session to learn about the SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Lab, lessons learned from successful integrations and interoperability of Open RAN network solutions and multi-vendor implementations and how you can work with us. 

Find out more about SONIC Labs by registering your interest on our website and signing up to the Digital Catapult Newsletter here.