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Vodafone and partners demo first multi-vendor Open RAN with RIC

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ABI Research says Open RAN radio intelligent controller (RIC) will disrupt the status quo and expects RIC deployment to dominate the market around 2024 to 2025.

Vodafone, Cohere Technologies, VMware, Capgemini Engineering, Intel and Telecom Infra Project (TIP) participated in the demonstration. It showed how a new Open Radio Access Network (RAN) platform can double 5G capacity when multiple customers are using the same site.

Vodafone said the trial is the latest step in building a cost-effective Open RAN ecosystem that will benefit Vodafone customers. It took place in a test laboratory with the companies using a programmable, AI-based RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) supporting a mixture of Open RAN components from different vendors.

Vodafone says this collaboration is a milestone in demonstrating the potential of RIC sitting at the heart of an Open RAN installation.

Enter MU-MIMO

The companies’ demonstration took place in a test lab using of Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) – providing more capacity at a single cell site – running on a RIC located at a multi-vendor Open RAN test site. 

MU-MIMO apportions ample bandwidth to individual users connected to the same mobile site and is considered the pivotal technique to boost cell capacity in future 5G networks, Vodafone says.
 
Based on the performance of Cohere’s Spectrum Multiplier MU-MIMO scheduler in the trial, when the technique is commercially deployed in a low-band (such as 700MHz) network, users will benefit from up to double the capacity using MIMO.

This software can be extended to Massive MIMO in mid-band (3.5GHz) networks increase capacity four- or five-fold. The RIC architecture is standardised by the O-RAN Alliance and fundamental to creating an open framework to reduce the cost and running of Open RAN.

The importance of RIC

ABI Research comments, "Open RAN RIC will disrupt the status quo and create new opportunities for a wider ecosystem to join this segment of the market". It expects the trend of standard RIC deployment to dominate the market around 2024 and 2025.

“O-RAN ALLIANCE specified RIC framework and corresponding interfaces for both non-Real-Time (RT) RIC and near-RT RIC to address further increased network service requirements from different verticals and complex RAN operation with automation,” explains Jiancao Hou, 5G & Mobile Network Infrastructure Senior Analyst at ABI Research.

“The separation of RIC functionality according to different time scales (i.e., non-RT and near-RT) aims to facilitate a vast reduction in development and deployment costs, and to help drive standardization and expand the ecosystem in a timely manner.” Moreover, “Designing non-RT RIC functionality in a Service Management and Orchestration (SMO) platform, but not the RAN itself, is to secure access to contextual information and coordinated optimization of radio resources and network policies.”

ABI Research summarises a list of promising application use cases for RIC into three main categories, including proactive radio resource management, massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) optimization and interference mitigation, and other systematic applications such as end-to-end network slicing, Key Performance Indicator (KPI) monitoring and anomaly detection. The list does not limit the actual RIC application use cases. Depending on the specific implementation environment in either the consumer market or enterprise market, more use cases, such as precise positioning, highly accurate channel estimation, and power saving, can also be introduced for different service-level assurance.

The research house says that apart from O-RAN ALLIANCE standardization activities on open interfaces and reference designs, many developments and field tests have been conducted collaboratively among ecosystem partners to verify the solution and reshape a new business model reinvention framework.

For example, ONF SD-RAN project, together with multi-vendor partners, is building an open-source O-RAN compliant software-defined RIC platform and a set of exemplar xAPPs to test the feasibility of the solution. Meanwhile, in collaboration with many Tier-1 operators, radio vendors, and system integrators, the TIP RIA subgroup also focuses on accelerating multi-vendor RIC solutions and identifying the most promising application use cases.

The development of RIC solutions is expanding rapidly, but the new approach may not be dominating the mainstream global deployment within the next 2 to 3 years due to the ongoing standardization and the lack of a mature application ecosystem.

Small and niche network scenarios, such as indoor, rural, neutral host, and private network segments could be a good starting point for smaller vendors “because they don’t need to get into tangled relationships with heavy-iron telco network providers,” Hou points out. Driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML) technology and increased demands of data analysis, intelligent RAN control and automation will definitely lead to more efficient network operation and revenue streams.” However, “Before that happens, key stakeholders should take more active roles to test and verify the solution in terms of network reliability, security and performance,” Hou concludes.