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It’s the Time to Talk about Open RAN Performance

by Guang Yang | Jul 01, 2021

Incumbent Vendor in the Spotlight of GLOMO Awards again

In past years, incumbent vendors, such as Ericsson and Huawei, had dominated the Best Mobile Infrastructure Award in the GLOMO Awards program. The situation changed last year. The Global OpenRAN Development of Vodafone, Parallel Wireless and Telecom Infra Project won the award. But in this year, an incumbent vendor, Huawei, is in the spotlight again. Huawei’s BladeAAU series won the Best Mobile Infrastructure Award in the GLOMO Awards 2021 on Wednesday, June 30th. Why did the judges give the incumbent vendor more credits? Perhaps we could find some clues from the recent announcements of leading European operators.   

Leading Operators Set Open RAN Technical Requirements

On May 12th, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, TIM and Vodafone jointly published their “Open RAN Technical Priorities.” This is the first time that leading operators have publicly set clear requirements for Open RAN features, performance and rollout timeframe.

The document states that, “the operators wish to ensure the readiness of Open RAN solutions for large scale network roll-out from 2022 onwards. Macro deployment is identified as the primary target for the operators.” and “Open Fronthaul is the prime interface to be supported in a fully interoperable manner, without compromising network performance, especially for Massive-MIMO.”

On June 14th. 2021, the five operators published the detailed technical requirements. The two documents give us a chance to understand the needs of the leading operators for Open RAN.

A total of 21 scenarios are identified in the requirements document. Based on the various scenarios, a large number of technical requirements are defined for Cloud Infrastructure, CU-DU, Radio Unit (RU), Fronthaul, RAN Features, RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC), and Service Management and Orchestration (SMO)/ Automation. For example, 59 variants have been specified in the O-RU detailed requirements list. All of these technical requirements are categorized into two priority levels and three priority types:

  • P0 - “must have” / “shall support”
  • P1 - "nice to have" / "should support"
  • Unanimity - All 5 operators have the corresponding priority
  • Majority - 3 or 4 operators have the corresponding priority
  • Minority - 1 or 2 operators have the corresponding priority

In terms of O-RU detailed requirements, 12 out of the total 59 variants are categorized as P0 and Majority simultaneously, which could be seen as the variants with high priority and broad demand (see the exhibit below).
Blog_Open RAN_1
Source: Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, TIM and Vodafone ‘Open RAN Technical Priorities’

A High Bar for Emerging Open RAN Players

In October 2020, Vodafone identified vendors that it considered to be "frontrunners" in Open RAN radio technology, based on a prior RFI. Most of them were medium or small players that focus on the small cell and 4G market, such as Airspan, Baicells, Comba, and NTS. A comparison between the detailed technical requirements published recently and the products of these “frontrunners” shows that the five European operators indeed set a high bar for these emerging players.

We have not seen any 5G massive MIMO products on the website of Baicells, Comba or NTS. Mavenir and Xilinx have joined forces to develop an Open RAN Massive MIMO Portfolio, but the first Massive MIMO 64TRX product will be not available until late 2021 and we have no information about its technical specifications. Airspan does provide a 5G massive MIMO O-RU product for the sub-6GHz band with 32T32R but it presently only supports 100 MHz bandwidth,  which does not meet the requirements of the five European operators.

The specification gap also exists in the 4G RU area. The operators require high Tx power for single band O-RUs, up to 60W or 80W per Tx.  However, many of the “frontrunners” only provide micro cells. Even Baicells and Comba who have some 4G macro cell RU products, claim a maximum Tx power that is lower than the operators’ requirement. The operators also require a Tri-band O-RU for low bands (700/800/900 MHz) and mid-bands (1800/2100/2600 MHz). But so far, we have not seen any of the “frontrunners” providing Tri-Band RU for low bands, and only Comba’s Multi-Band RU can support Tri-Band in mid-band.

Open RAN Specifications Behind the Leading Incumbent Vendor’s Current Products

On the other side, however, the large incumbent RAN infrastructure vendors have already provided specifications that are superior to the operators’ Open RAN requirements. Either Ericsson’s Antenna Integrated Radio, Huawei’s massive MIMO AAU or Nokia’s latest AirScale massive MIMO radio unit can provide higher Tx power or wider Instantaneous Bandwidth (IBW), meanwhile all the products are much lighter than the Open RAN requirements. Either Ericsson or Huawei has developed a 19Kg 64T64R massive MIMO radio unit and the weight of Nokia’s new 32T32R massive MIMO radio unit is just 17Kg, while the massive MIMO O-RU weight is specified as 45Kg for both 64T64R and 32T32R models in the Open RAN technical requirements. 

Higher Tx power will lead to a better coverage. Wider IBW can enable the 5G RAN sharing that has been taken by some leading operators to reduce the cost and accelerate the rollout, such as Vodafone and O2 in the UK, Vodafone and Orange in Spain, KDDI and Softbank in Japan, etc. The lighter equipment means a simpler and quicker installation – less than 20Kg is already light enough for one person to safely lift and carry – which is important for mobile operators as they try to manage their network deployment costs and accelerate the rollout process.

Highly integrated and compact radio unit is important for operators to reduce the number of boxes on site and lower the site rental fee. The awarded Huawei’s Blade AAU Pro is such a product. The product integrates 5G massive MIMO and 2G/3G/4G passive antennas into one box. The most highly integrated solution for sub-6 GHz band can help operators to address crowded cell sites, improve the user experience, shorten time-to-market, and reduce the overall TCO.
Blog_Open RAN_2
Source: Huawei

Network Experience Key for Operator’s Business Success

It can be seen that the Open RAN technical requirements defined by leading European operators indeed set a high bar for the emerging Open RAN players, but those specifications are still behind the leading incumbent vendors’ current products. The compromises indicate the real demand of European leading operators.

The operators hope to encourage entry of new suppliers to boost competition and stimulate innovation. On the other hand, minimum performance is not compromised to ensure that the new suppliers can support the coming 5G rollout. In the long run of 5G competition, an excellent network experience is key for operators to achieve the business success in either B2C or B2B market. To enhance network experience should be the ultimate goal of any technological innovation. This is a consensus of the global mobile industry in the 5G era. Huawei’s win for the Best Mobile Infrastructure Award is a proof.  

More detailed analyses about the subject can be found in our recent reports: It’s the Time to Talk about Open RAN Performance and Operator Choices Suggest some Early Winners in the First Wave of Open RAN Deployments in Europe.

 

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