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How Telcos can deliver reliable Open RAN by 2025

To deliver Open RAN upgrades at scale, sound program management must be backed by high technical competence

Arnab Das
Jun 18, 2024

As we approach the mid-point of 2024, there is unquestionable momentum gathering around Open Radio Access Network technology (Open RAN or ORAN). It’s not just idle talk, but real action. Major telecom giants like AT&T, Vodafone, TELUS, and Deutsche Telekom have all made significant investments in, and commitments to, Open RAN, with Vodafone planning to deploy Open RAN technology in 30% of its European sites by 2030. At this year’s Mobile World Congress, Open RAN was a recurring theme. One projection reckons it will generate $3.2 billion in annual revenue by 2024.

The appeal of Open RAN lies in its flexible architecture, which promises lower-power, sustainable mobile networks, with superior performance, and which allow new innovative customer services to be quickly launched. Furthermore, Open RAN paves the way for next-generation wireless technology and spectrum utilization.

In the past two years, the focus has been on getting ready for the transition: this includes technology standardization, trials of individual technologies, benchmarking, and basic interoperability. This year, 2024, is the year of large scale Open RAN deployments where multiple network sites are fully upgraded to Open RAN architectures.

The Challenge: Transitioning to Open RAN

Transitioning to Open RAN involves a massive industrialization program where traditional RAN sites are redesigned, by pulling them apart and putting them back together using disaggregated network architectures, and best of breed Open RAN-compatible technologies, backed by AI control for optimal network management.

This is effectively a complex infrastructure modernization project, which involves using both physical and digital technologies to create greater value from physical infrastructure. Like any infrastructure project – it will need careful management to bring together all relevant partners and suppliers to work towards the same goal.

This program management will need to solve many technical challenges. New Open RAN networks will implement a wide range of new technologies from a wide range of vendors. The overarching program management will involve not just overseeing deployment, but rigorous assessment of the technologies, their suppliers, and how they integrate and interoperate within the network.

There is no precedent for deploying these networks at scale, and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) can escalate if both the overall project and its technical aspects are not managed effectively. If operators get it wrong – and end up with networks that degrade quickly and need constant patching up – they may become a management school case study on lessons in too much management and not enough attention to technical detail.

Overcoming Open RAN Risks to deliver a network that operates reliably

The Telcos that have committed to Open RAN now face the daunting task of making it operational and reliable at scale, meeting stringent Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), all whilst keeping costs under control.

The key dimensions that need to be managed in this massive industrialization program include:

  • Building a supplier ecosystem

Operators must carefully choose a wide range of vendors that align with the specific needs of their network. That means navigating an ecosystem of providers of hardware (eg. radio, signal processing, switches), software (eg. control, virtualization, analytics), cloud providers/hyperscalers, and AI and automation tools. Each will need verification and validation, both independently and within the network, to ensure their technologies all integrate seamlessly.

This will need to be backed by the establishment of a supply chain ecosystem that includes clear technical guidance, standards and blueprints that allow a wide variety of suppliers to ‘plug and play’ into the network.

  • Service Level Agreements

Each vendor will need a clear SLA to define and guarantee what they will deliver, aligned to the network needs, as well as setting out clear lines of accountability and process for issue resolution. To ensure these agreements meet both parties’ long-term needs, they will need to be informed by a deep understanding of the engineering challenges, the pressures on the supplier, and the needs of the overall network — not just built around individual relationships. You don’t want to end up with hundreds of great direct supplier relationships, none of whom can work together.

  • Design and Interoperability

The network architecture itself will need to be designed, built, and tested to support interoperability between different vendor equipment. It will need common data models to ensure easy integration with Tier-2/Tier-3 operators who cannot make heavy investments in R&D to build data models.

An understanding of emerging standards and vendor certifications, and how to apply them in the real world – even as they continue to evolve – can help mitigate many potential issues.

  • Scalability

Scaling Open RAN from one site to hundreds, or thousands, will need processes to manage this efficiently. Building technical templates for RAN site upgrades, which can be deployed repeatably and customized to local needs, will be an essential part of any program management that hopes to deliver this transition at scale. This must be supported by as much standardization as possible across the whole network, particularly in security architecture.

The first site upgrades may take some time to get everything right. But with good program management, subsequent upgrades should be quick, as technical configurations captured in customizable blueprints allow rapid scale of upgrades across the network.

  • Monitoring and automation

Managing Open RAN’s complexity and maintaining high levels of network performance at scale – at least comparable to an optimized single-vendor environment – will require the smart use of network monitoring.

Real-time performance data from every vendor will need to be collected and assessed by analytics and AI tools, to enable network automation and self-organizing networks that continuously spot issues and optimization opportunities. For example, monitoring systems can perform security verifications, or help detect and diagnose interoperability issues between components from different vendors, ensuring the network functions as intended. This is a critical issue in Open RAN, since mismatches in configurations or software versions between devices from different vendors can lead to service degradation or failures.

Robust data on network setup and performance will also support the creation of digital twins of the site setup, which can be replicated at similar sites for fast roll outs, or used to model new setups before they are deployed, adding efficiencies at scale with each new deployment.

The importance of balancing technical proficiency with program management

Effective program management in deploying new telecom infrastructure like Open RAN cannot be divorced from a thorough understanding of the underlying engineering and radio technologies.

Program managers need to grasp the technical nuances and complexities involved in Open RAN to ensure that programs meet stringent network performance and security metrics, and that network setups can easily be scaled and customized across sites. Many projects overrun and cost too much because of a lack of technical proficiency in the underlying technologies, leading to significant post-integration reconfiguration and troubleshooting, and inconsistencies across sites. You can’t do good program management if you don’t understand the program you are managing.

The transition to Open RAN is not only a strategic business move, but a comprehensive overhaul of the telecom infrastructure that demands a profound technical and operational understanding, alongside excellent program management to deliver an efficient transition. As the industry edges closer to widespread adoption of Open RAN, the ability of Telcos to manage this transition will be crucial to their success and sustainability in the new era of telecoms.

TelcoInsights is a series of posts about the latest trends and opportunities in the telecommunications industry – powered by a community of global industry experts and thought leaders.

Meet the author

Arnab Das

Vice President Advanced Connectivity Center of Excellence, Capgemini Engineering
Arnab currently serves as Vice President and CoE head of Connectivity at Capgemini Engineering. As a global lead for technology and innovation business, Arnab drives the connectivity business portfolio for 5G, virtualization, cloud native, edge computing, intelligent networks, and carrier cloud platforms. He is responsible for driving business development, competence development, and knowledge management for the advanced connectivity pillar for Capgemini Engineering.