The Benefits & Challenges of Open RAN and End-to-End Testing
In order to keep pace with the ever-increasing user expectations for instant access to information, operators need the agility to scale on demand, make changes quickly, and launch innovative products and services as required. As such, network operators are leading the path to an open architecture like Open RAN for its ability to provide a more flexible and cost-effective deployment option for operators.
In this article, we will explore O-RAN architecture’s unique benefits, challenges, and how E2E Testing may help to overcome the challenges.
But First, What is O-RAN?
An O-RAN, or Open Radio Access Network is a concept based on interoperability and standardization of RAN elements, including a unified interconnection standard for white-box hardware and open source software elements from different vendors. It replaces single-vendor RAN solutions with stable, scalable, and 5G-ready architectures that enables operators to put together best-of-breed networks. The architecture of O-RAN integrates a modular base station software stack on off-the-shelf hardware, thus allowing baseband and radio unit components from discrete suppliers to operate seamlessly together.
O-RAN underscores streamlined 5G RAN performance objectives through the common attributes of efficiency, intelligence, and versatility. The deployment of Open RAN at the network edge is beneficial for 5G applications, such as the IoT and autonomous vehicles, supports network slicing, and enables a secure & efficient over-the-air firmware upgrade.
The Benefits of O-RAN
Open RAN architectures, including O-RAN, are attractive to telcos especially as they look to introduce more software into their networks, reduce costs, and diversify their supply chains. It enables an open, multi-vendor RAN ecosystem that enables more flexibility for operators as they are not reliant on a single vendor for all aspects of RAN implementation. New entrants can potentially drive down O-RAN equipment costs as a result of competition and proliferation.
Furthermore, the inter-carrier, interoperability aspects of Open RAN can be used to increase efficiencies for existing LTE networks as they continue to incorporate the virtualization and disaggregation that are prerequisites for 5G RAN deployments. Another advantage of Open RAN is that they enable operators to bring innovative solutions that are specific to their industry, hence they can be tailored to meet the needs of specific applications or industries.
With the move toward Open RANs, operators and integrators need to validate that the technology all works together before it goes into the live network. O-RAN will have many individual components, meaning operators will have to benchmark and test each component independently. Integrating O-RAN components from different vendors and making sure they work properly together requires a little bit of time. Operators will have to make the decisions as to whether single or multi-vendor is most appropriate based on their own case.
Another challenge with O-RAN is knowing how to solve network problems once it has been deployed. In a multi-vendor environment, undoubtedly it will become more difficult to identify product-related issues compared to a traditional single-vendor network. Operators will need a vendor-independent validation and troubleshooting to resolve network problems. And one of the biggest challenges of all is perhaps identifying who should take ownership and responsibility of issues, particularly when there are multiple vendors involved.
Conquering O-RAN Challenges with E2E Solutions
Success of disaggregated RAN networks will depend on the ability of operators to integrate and meet network key performance indicators (KPIs) in a multi-vendor environment. Both O-RAN and E2E network testing have their own challenges, but there is a solution in our comprehensive test suite that is backed by a long history of industry experience. VIAVI’s TM500 and TeraVM are designed to solve the challenge of O-RAN, offering a complete E2E test solution from RAN to core, simulating real-world traffic and ensuring networks are robust enough to cope with the complexity and demands of devices and traffic at scale.
Prior to deploying a cloud network or infrastructure, emulating traffic in a lab is beneficial for operators as it allows them to test networks that are still in development. VIAVI’s TeraVM is flexible enough to run in the lab, data center, and the cloud, which helps operators to ensure that networks will be highly optimised upon deployment, thus minimizing risk and potential loss. This is particularly important for smaller operators in early stages of network deployment.
By picking the most robust, reliable, and advanced suite of test solutions in the market, service providers will be able to meet service level agreements and conduct robust & reliable E2E network testing, and thus delivering a superior quality of service for end users.
Proven Results at Plugfest
Last year, VIAVI participated in a global O-RAN Plugfest hosted by tier-1 CSPs and the O-RAN ALLIANCE. The Plugfest involved a series of on-site demonstrations in countries such as Berlin, Torino, Madrid, Bengaluru and Tokyo. This included a joint demonstration with EANTC, showing how VIAVI automated E2E O-RAN tests. We verified 12 multi-vendor pairings of O-RU and O-DU/O-CU solutions at OTIC labs, using the TM500 E500, an industry first, demonstrating how end-to-end testing can incorporate a truly multi-vendor O-RAN architecture.
As a key contributor to the O-RAN ALLIANCE, VIAVI collaborates on essential multi-vendor interoperability testing (MV-IOT) to ensure confidence in disparate Open RAN fronthaul components, disaggregated software and hardware elements from multiple suppliers operating in concert. We are actively engaged in O-RAN ALLIANCE, contributing to interoperability test specifications, E2E test framework, Open fronthaul, xHaul Transport, Plugfest, and Test & Integration Focus Group (TIFG). Contact VIAVI today for more information.