Driving Service Innovation in Near-Real-Time with Programmatic Control of the RAN

Fierce competition among communications service providers is compelling them to find new ways to generate revenues and become more efficient. In a commoditized market, CSPs can’t stand out from each other without elevating the levels of flexibility and intelligence in network architectures — a virtually impossible task with today’s single-vendor monolithic radio access network architectures.

Against this backdrop, Open RAN supplies a way to restructure how the RAN is organized and run, and to future-proof it for long-term innovation. The vision of the industry-led O-RAN Alliance is to decouple the control and management functions of the RAN from its data plane functions, and thereby abstract the complexities inherent in the underlying RAN infrastructure and enable programmability of the RAN by using the RAN Intelligent Controller, or RIC. 

The decoupling and abstraction of traditional RAN components and the use of the RIC gives rise to several positive outcomes:

  • The RAN becomes more open and disaggregated.
  • Disaggregation in turn fosters greater choice and flexibility in a traditionally closed market.
  • Openness and flexibility fuel a rich ecosystem of applications that can programmatically control the RAN. 
  • The RIC delivers a platform for using AI/ML to optimize the RAN.

These changes provide a strong foundation for CSPs and their partners within their broader ecosystem to offer more innovative solutions to enterprise and consumer customers.

The Near-Real-Time Power of VMware Distributed RIC

The RIC comes in two forms:

  • The near-real-time RIC, part of the control plane, can host applications (xApps) that directly manipulate how users connect to the RAN.
  • The non-real-time RIC, part of the management plane, can host applications (rApps) to optimize and reconfigure the RAN.

The VMware Distributed RIC is an implementation of the near-real-time RAN intelligent controller (near-RT RIC) in the O-RAN Alliance reference architecture. Although technologies like the non-real-time RIC and self-organizing networks (SON) can optimize RAN performance by making configuration changes in response to observed behavior, they lack the ability to control active users attached to a network. This is where the VMware Distributed RIC has the power to bring innovative capabilities to bear in a modern network through the programmatic control of xApps.

Fostering Service Innovation with Programmability

The E2 interface defined in the O-RAN standards opens the user plane and control plane on RAN network elements to programmatic control by xApps. Programmability fosters the implementation of use cases that directly manage how users connect to the network and the level of service they experience.

The vision and strategy of VMware by Broadcom is to be vendor neutral, and thus we have engineered VMware Distributed RIC to seamlessly integrate with RAN centralized units (CUs) and distributed units (DUs) as well as xApps from a large ecosystem of partners. The vision aims to enable CSPs to maximize the full benefits of an open virtualized RAN by providing them with the freedom to choose their RAN vendors based on their unique requirements and priorities as they work to modernize their RAN. VMware also provides a non-real-time RIC function, called VMware Centralized RIC, as part of our SMO, which simplifies the management of RAN functions with automated lifecycle management and end-to-end assurance.

Figure 1: VMware Distributed RIC in an O-RAN Network.

Vendor-Neutral Approach Gives Rise to a Vibrant Ecosystem

VMware’s vendor-neutral approach combined with the power of programmability in VMware Distributed RIC promotes a RAN architecture that you can tailor to the unique demands of your network by tapping a vibrant xApp ecosystem through the VMware RIC SDKs. While the SDKs elevate the activities of app developers, they also empower you to develop your own xApps to meet your business priorities and technology requirements. The ecosystem accelerates the innovation in the RAN because you can bring solutions to market at a much faster pace. 

In 2023, VMware was recognized by leading analyst Omdia as the market leader in the development of an open app ecosystem for both xApps and rApps. As of January 2024, there are 35 active members of the VMware RIC partner program, with more companies engaged at an early stage in the pipeline.

Figure 2: RIC Partner Ecosystem

xApp Use Cases

Here are some key xApp use cases from our VMware partner ecosystem:

Use CaseDescription
Traffic Steering, provided by Rimedo Labs Rimedo’s policy-controlled xApp running on VMware Distributed RIC incorporates both service and mobility load-balancing to avoid congestion, improve user experience and make the network more energy efficient.
Channel Prediction, provided by AiraAira’s High Fidelity Channel Estimation and Prediction xApp allows operators with existing networks to achieve more than double the throughput and more than 3dB of Signal to Interference Noise Ratio (SINR) gain. This excess throughput can either result in more subscribers or in providing existing subscribers higher levels of data rates for new high-fidelity applications, such as VR, AR, and gaming.
Geolocation, provided by ViaviVIAVI’s Geolocation xApp unlocks the power of location intelligence for the RAN. By leveraging mobile cellular signaling data as the primary input for its location technology and pairing it with network configuration management data, radio site information and subscriber digital geospatial information, VIAVI’s xApp accurately geolocates subscribers 24/7 and makes this information available for consumption by other RIC applications in the near-real-time domain.
Traffic Forecasting, provided by Net AINet AI’s xUPscaler xApp running on VMware Distributed RIC uses artificial intelligence to predict traffic levels across the RAN, allowing accurate allocation of computational resources to meet demand.

Tier-1 European OpCo Lab Performance Testing

Earlier this year a Tier-1 European operator conducted a lab testing exercise to test the conformance of VMware Distributed RIC to O-RAN E2 specifications, and its ability to support latency-sensitive applications. The testing demonstrated the ability of the VMware Distributed RIC conform to O-RAN E2 standards and to manage up to 100 E2 nodes each with 3 cells with reporting times of less than 10ms. This testing is an important validation of the VMware Distributed RIC platform, and demonstrates its readiness to bring the benefits of near-real-time RAN control to mobile operators.

Bringing Near-Real-Time Programmatic Control to the RAN

VMware Distributed RIC brings the power of near-real-time programmatic control of the RAN to CSPs, allowing the implementation of a range of use cases that have direct revenue-generating potential. It is a vendor-neutral platform that can be integrated with any application, RAN network element and O-Cloud vendor. 
The SDK provided with the platform, with open APIs, sample code, and developer support, helps accelerate the development of new xApps. Our extensive ecosystem of RIC partners gives you the flexibility to choose the  solutions that best meet your needs. The ability of VMware Distributed RIC to host different applications has been demonstrated in case studies with operators like Vodafone and in numerous O-RAN-sponsored PlugFest projects.

Learn more about VMware Distributed RIC on our website at vmware.com/products/telco-cloud/ric