Leading European operators team to accelerate Open RAN development

Leading European operators show how they are addressing questions and challenges raised by experts and decision-makers regarding open radio access networks, with a particular focus on maturity, security and energy efficiency

Leading European operators Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia (TIM) and Telefónica have published a report demonstrating the essential progress being made in improving the maturity, security and energy efficiency of open radio access networks (Open RAN).

The Open RAN MoU progress update on maturity, security and energy efficiency report noted that maturity, security and energy efficiency were becoming increasingly important as Open RAN technology enters a new phase in its development. The companies said they encouraged open discussions around these topics throughout 2022.

With global deployments now reaching tens of thousands of sites, mainly executed by new operators in greenfield deployments, the report creators said Open RAN was closing the gap with traditional mobile radio networks in terms of feature parity and performance, with further pilots planned this year, leading to full-scale deployments across Europe in 2025.

The operators are in the process of developing an Open RAN ecosystem and under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in early 2021, they individually committed to working with all industry players to make Open RAN the technology of choice for future mobile networks, and bring its substantial benefits to consumers and enterprise customers across Europe.

The report sets out the operators’ agenda for 2023 under the three main topics of maturity, security and energy efficiency. Looking at maturity, the report noted that the technology gap between traditional RAN and Open RAN was closing.

Open RAN deployments are already visible in markets such as the UK and North America, facilitated by government support. In Europe, small deployments/trials are already in place, new pilots are announced for this year and larger-scale deployments are expected from 2025. A key focus in 2023 will be around maturity of 5G for urban areas and minimising systems integration overheads by maturing certification delivered through industry communities.

The operators continue to cooperate with the relevant national authorities to share information on the security, implementation and management of Open RAN. They are also looking at strengthening cooperation with national authorities on security, including the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (Enisa), and enhancing energy efficiency of all components, with particular focus on the radio transmitters and cloud infrastructure. The companies have requested to formally include Open RAN as part of the GSMA security assurance scheme (Nesas) and the EU’s 5G certification scheme defined by Enisa.

The EU NIS Co-operation Group’s assessment of Open RAN security, published in June 2022, was designed to help develop strong security controls for specification, development, procurement, systems integration, testing and operations. Deutsche Telekom, Orange, TIM, Telefónica and Vodafone said they will, as a minimum, apply all the mandatory controls defined by the O-RAN Alliance and security specifications from the 3GPP standards body themselves and throughout the supply chain.

The operators have committed to follow a zero-trust approach to every supplier and ensure industry-established standards and specifications such as 3GPP and O-RAN Alliance, requirements from national authorities and risk profiles of suppliers are correctly captured and assessed during upcoming operator procurement processes.

As regards energy efficiency, the report said the availability of energy-efficient hardware combined with sleep modes was helping Open RAN at least match the energy efficiency of existing mobile sites. The Open RAN MoU operators said they were collaborating with the industry to increase the energy efficiency of all the Open RAN components, with particular focus on radio transmitters and cloud infrastructure.

As in traditional mobile networks, the Open RAN radio units (the transmitters) consume the most power. Currently, their energy efficiency already falls within the typical range seen with traditional RAN. The operators insist this will further improve thanks to dynamic sleep mode based on traffic needs.

In addition, the operators are proposing a general framework for energy monitoring of all appropriate parts of the Open RAN system, including real-time reporting, tools and methodologies to achieve greater automation. The aim is to present the resulting framework for standardisation in ETSI for a harmonised methodology to be used across the whole industry.

Among other key areas of focus for the operators in 2023 is assisting with the development of Open RAN technologies to allow for wider deployment in highly populated towns and cities than is currently possible.

Commenting on the report, Abdu Mudesir, group CTO for Deutsche Telekom, said: “Open RAN has matured over the last months and our initial commercial deployment will start soon. We believe that Open RAN will enrich the mobile ecosystem with new capabilities and innovation that will bring value to our customers and society. This whitepaper offers timely guidance on key areas of remaining Open RAN ecosystem development required to pave the way to open RAN brownfield deployments at scale.”

Orange chief technology and innovation officer Michaël Trabbia said: “The significant progress made recently by the Open RAN industry has given us the assurance that open and cloud-native RAN is now geared up for first commercial deployments in brownfield networks within Europe from 2023 onwards. In the long run, we also have a clear path set up with an efficient framework to ease the integration burden, opening the door for deployments at scale. Eventually, we expect Open RAN to even outperform traditional RAN, allowing us to reap the benefits of fully automated and intelligent networks.”

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