According to You: The Truth Behind the RAN Transformation

The RAN transformation has taken the industry by storm. You can’t receive a newsletter anymore without reading about yet another Open RAN announcement or attend an industry event without hearing about the latest trial. Some of the voices speaking out on this topic are loud, so we wanted to make sure we kept an ear to the ground; to tune into the sentiments from throughout the industry.

With that in mind, over the past several months, we did just that – listened. Through surveys during industry events and our dedicated telco social channels, we asked you the big “What”, “Why” and “When” questions about RAN.

So, what did nearly 400 of you have to say? Let’s review…

What is the most severe challenge you expect to arise from implementing Open RAN?

The RAN transformation will require adjustments beyond the technology. It’s pretty clear from the results of the survey that changing the mindset of communications service providers (CSPs) will be the industry’s biggest hurdle in reaching Open RAN.

Much like the legacy network, CSP operational processes are rigid and exhaustive. Departmental mindsets and silos will require significant shift to be able to thrive in a multi-vendor environment. Currently, CSPs have established operations to support a very small group of vendor relationships with very distinct responsibilities. With Open RAN, CSPs will have the ability to engage a broader ecosystem. With more relationships to manage, more technologies to integrate and more throats-to-choke, comes more opportunity to extract value from the ecosystem.

The operational shifts that will be required to enable Open RAN don’t stop with vendor management. Processes from RFPs to trials will have to be re-approached to be more software-friendly. Gone are the days when we drove innovation with SLAs. Software is a wild world of continuous integration and continuous delivery, which will mean service providers will need to learn to co-innovate with the ecosystem and their customers.

To make these operational shifts, CSPs will need to transform their skillsets. They will need teams with expertise in cloud-based, virtualized solutions; teams who understand cloud native approaches and have experience in analytics and programming.

While new multi-vendor solutions will take some time to mature and become stable within CSP networks, most CSPs understand that success with new tools will require new operational models.  

Which of the following is the most promising opportunity that you see Open RAN bringing?

Yup. This is the world of software, so we’ll certainly start to see some identifiable themes in the results here. Just like with the previous question (and nearly every other transformation question out there), the key to success when it comes to nearly every element of this network transformation is agility. Agility to create services. Agility to automate lifecycle management. Agility to improve network efficiencies.

It’s no surprise then that the opportunity the market sees in Open RAN is agility.

Cloud Native RAN will help to bring down the current software and feature wait times from quarters to weeks and add the ability to have software feature set customization locally. Traditionally, software and feature upgrade request are prioritized based on that CSP’s importance to the vendor who build their dedicated stack. With vRAN, CSPs level the battlefield by having the power to choose and develop software and features they need for their customers. This agility will enable CSP to react to the market requirements faster and address specific local market demands quickly.

What is your sentiment regarding Open RAN?

Not much of a contest with this question – seems nearly all of the market is interest in progressing Open RAN, regardless of phase they’re currently in.

The fact that Open RAN, a Cloud Native RAN, is of interest to the market is not surprising given the overall benefits this advanced architecture brings to the CSPs as well as their customers. Enabling a transformation of this significance will not come without concerns, but the sentiment is that most vendors, analysts and CSPs feel Open RAN is the future of all mobile networks.

With that in mind, and armed with deep cloud native experience, the approach that VMware has taken with our Telco Cloud Platform RAN solution is one that appreciates that sentiment. The RAN-optimized horizontal solution meets CSP’s where their network is today, to help begin the process of that evolution. So, no matter where your network is in its current evolution, VMware can meet you there and help you prepare for the next step. This is why VMware is currently in trials with major CSPs all around the globe and in production at Dish Networks.

How mature is the security of Open RAN?

A hot topic for many important reasons, this security question showed us how spread out the perceptions of Open RAN security are in the market.

Beyond the 3GPP and O-RAN Alliance standards (which clearly define the security requirements that are part of CSP architecture today), VMware’s platform architecture includes inherent security and segregation that provides additional security for hosting CSPs Edge and RAN workloads. VMware Telco Cloud Platform RAN adheres to and satisfies all relevant cybersecurity requirements including NIST, NTIA, and ETSI security requirements. Additionally, VMware has company-wide security requirements that drill down into each product and provide security for virtualized platform components, functional modules and networking, to ensure O-RAN communication security.

What is the main challenge for CSPs to implement Open RAN?

Telecom historically has hit the “easy button” when it came to network architectures – siloed operations provided a single throat to choke and simplified deployments. Based on the requirements of 5G and changing market demands, the easy button will no longer suffice and the RAN domain in Wireless Networks is not the exception. CSPs have to find ways to work with more partners, to break down  monolithic stacks to bring advanced capabilities to their networks. This means more multi-vendor integrations.

“Open” does not equal “Plug-N-Play” so no one is arguing these integration efforts will be easy. They are simply necessary and worth-while.

Given the promise that Open RAN will break vendor lock-in, optimizing TCO and enabling new revenue streams, CSPs worldwide started to test the technology and release RFXs to get a comprehensive understanding about the benefits and the broader ecosystem of vendors. They have recognized their lack of ability to handle multiple vendors in the RAN domain and have identified gaps across the whole value chain.

Fortunately, VMware is supporting the ecosystem by delivering a partner program and building a RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) partner ecosystem that addresses these concerns, paving the way to a smooth vRAN to Open RAN deployment for both greenfield and brownfield CSPs.

In what areas has Open #RAN failed to deliver thus far?

Open RAN was proposed in 2016, and since then new providers have been gradually integrated into the ecosystem. This ecosystem growth has led to intensive interoperability testing between disaggregated RAN components at all layers of the architecture. CSPs, especially brownfield and emerging market-based, don’t want to be the “guinea pig” to test new technologies or suffer the yoke of interoperability issues during live deployments. VMware Ready for Telco Cloud Program enables telco network function partners to test the interoperability and readiness of their Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) and Cloud-Native Network Functions (CNFs) with the VMware Telco Cloud Platform, so that CSPs can introduce pre-certified configurations into their networks with reduced risk.  With the same intent, VMware RIC SDK partner program is designed to support app developers with all the necessary tools and features required to accelerate the development process of applications to run on VMware’s Open RIC.

As an active member of O-RAN Alliance, we have effectively participated in different Plug Fests around the world, where we have had the opportunity to demonstrate – along with CSPs and Partners – not only the success of these programs but also the unprecedented benefits the CSPs will get by deploying innovative xApps and rApps, running on top of the RIC, which ultimately bring programmability and intelligence to the RAN via open and standard interfaces.

To learn more about how VMware is enabling the RAN transformation for CSPs around the world, visit our website and follow us on LinkedIn.

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