Demands and Development of Open RAN
The telecom industry is going through significant changes driven by 5G, IoT, Cloud Computing, and evolving and maturing Open RAN. Open RAN will soon enter a new stage after it took off in 2020 in ways that no one ever expected. The initial idea of a new way of building radio networks based on a software-centric and open infrastructure is accomplished. Rakuten Mobile Open RAN deployment and several successful trials attracted the attention of a large number of mobile operators. There are still many questions and concerns such as uneven network performance, possible security issues, and Capex/Opex gain vs Legacy RAN Networks.
Several polls show that mobile operators’ main interest in Open RAN system is cost-effective deployment and operations. Only two of the major Legacy RAN vendors, Nokia and Samsung, committed to providing 5G Open RAN solutions and to contribute to Open RAN organizations. A likely scenario for many mobile operators is that, Open RAN deployments will be additions to the existing legacy network and both systems need to be managed together for a while.
The Role of Centralized Configuration Management
In today’s business climate, centralization and automation are essential. As a result, Centralized Configuration Management systems like Innovile CM solution has become a necessity for many mobile operators. As a solution provider, we see increasing demand from operators for a complete solution to do network processes like new node integrations, parameter compliance, optimizations, and operations. The most important aspect of these requests is automation. Quality of Service is the main driving force for the operators and providing a good level of service requires a highly skilled workforce and high Capex/Opex spending. The software solutions have a vital role to lower spending and let operators complete the network tasks without error by using lower headcounts. To be able to provide efficient and cost-effective solutions, Innovile is expanding its portfolio and focusing on automation use cases.
Innovile’s Comprehensive CM solution has below functionalities. SON solution is provided with CM solution along with NMS Operation Module to complete end-to-end integration, optimization, and operation cycle. Model-based functions are used to provide vendor-independent task executions. This enables mobile operators to handle all required complex jobs in a simple way. Since the vendor-independent structure is used and all the complexity is handled by the solution, expert vendor knowledge becomes unnecessary which leads to lower operational costs. Also, by using a centralized solution, training becomes easy and solution updates and modifications are completed in a short time.
Figure-1 : Innovile CM Modules
The diagram below shows Innovile Solutions Architecture based on microservices and APIs. It has a data collection ETL layer and NMS Execution Coordinator layer. Vendor independent platform requires several types of data collection protocols, mainly SFTP connection is used to collect vendor specific export files. Parsing and loading this data is the responsibility of the ETL layer. Another vendor-dependent layer is the Coordinator layer, which executes the changes. Innovile module has coordination responsibility as well to put the requests in prioritization and manage conflicting items.
Figure-2: Innovile Solution Architecture
NBI – Key Module for Open RAN Integrations
Managing Open RAN systems in installed CM systems will require adequate North Bound Interface (NBI) implementations from each Open RAN vendor. Even though the name indicates the system will be open and each node will be accessible for multi-vendor structure management, it is not preferable to control network elements directly from CM platforms. In legacy systems, for some nodes, it is possible to directly connect to make changes, but these changes should be synchronized with the vendor management system not to cause any conflict in the management processes. If a change is made without vendor NMS knowledge, it may use wrong or old parameter values for network functions. To prevent this kind of conflict in Open RAN systems, as it is implemented in legacy systems, each Open RAN vendor should implement NBIs to allow parameter changes in their systems.
The organizations defining and developing Open RAN standards cannot force vendors for NBI protocols as vendors can handle functionalities in their preferred way. For example, O-RAN alliance defined Operation and Maintenance (OAM) interface and the network protocol to be used decided as The Network Configuration Protocol (NetConf). Open RAN vendors implement this interface and provide compliance with the specifications but NBI could use a different approach since external interactions with the system are not regulated. Similar concerns are shared by Open RAN communities and new projects are planned to work on a unified management supporting multi-vendor systems.
As explained above, Open RAN vendors’ NBI implementations will be crucial to able to manage their systems by existing CM platforms. During the trials, NBI requirements should be clearly identified, and the scope of the trial should contain these interface tests as another success criteria. Keeping in mind for autonomous and zero-touch network concepts, even the NBI interface standardization should be considered since one of the biggest obstacles in zero-touch network implementation is non-standardized vendor-specific interfaces and protocols.
Innovile solutions with a wide range of functionalities are used in several mobile operators and a combination of CM, SON, and NMS modules create a harmonized solution for the operators who are looking for simplicity and E2E management capabilities. As Open RAN potential is acknowledged and rapid evolutions are seen, it will be an important alternative to the legacy networks. To be able to respond to these changes as a solution provider and remain competitive, embracing innovative technologies is now more important than ever for us. Innovile will continue expanding the capabilities of its solutions and Open RAN networks becoming an essential part of its portfolio to offer a full solution for all possible HetNet environments.