At this year’s VZTUF event, SOLiD President Ken Sandfeld offered his perspective on initial commercial deployments of the 3.5 GHz CBRS band as well as SOLiD’s newest product to support CBRS, the ALLIANCE edgeROU (or eROU). He also shared his thoughts on the adoption path for open radio access network (O-RAN) solutions and described SOLiD’s work to develop O-RAN products.
Most people in the industry believe open standards, like O-RAN, will form the basis for future network architectures. But widespread adoption is still a few years out and will require meeting a few key milestones first.
Currently in the industry, we are seeing lots of momentum around opening up RAN interfaces which will let operators mix-and-match hardware and software from different vendors. And ultimately, these types of open systems will reduce costs for the operators while increasing performance, flexibility and scalability. From a network economics standpoint, reducing costs will be particularly important to support the density required for 5G, for example.
But while the O-RAN Alliance has been active for several years, we are still at least a year away from seeing this rolled out on a big scale. There is still significant research, lab testing, field trials, and a few big milestones that the industry will need to pass through before we see widescale adoption.
The biggest challenge will be creating a standard that is easy to adopt and execute by vendors like us. We can test hardware and software together and see if it meets the O-RAN standard. But can you swap out hardware and software with another vendor and achieve the same performance? That’s the real test. We don’t know these things just yet, because most vendors are still just testing with their own equipment to see if it meets the O-RAN standards.
Can a network built on the O-RAN standard achieve the capacity needed for widespread deployment? In our case, with in-building systems, you typically don’t need huge capacity. But if you’re doing outdoor macro networks or big indoor venues, capacity is a key factor. There hasn’t been proof yet of how well these open architectures can scale to meet capacity demands.
Theoretically it’s unlimited, you just keep adding processing and other capabilities.. Although these efforts are just beginning to take shape, you are starting to see deployments like Rakuten Network in Japan and potential for companies like Dish in the US to try these type of hardware and software solutions.
SOLiD’s commitment to O-RAN
We committed to the O-RAN Alliance standard about a year ago. Since then, we’ve been focusing mostly in South Korea working with operators there who have their own approach to O-RAN. In the US, we are also starting to talk to operators to understand their approach to the open standard.
One of our biggest challenges is we depend on the software vendors because we’re not a software company on that side of things. Our clear partner for these types of solutions is Samsung and it’s an important part of what we’re doing to support their efforts.
I also think in-building is a perfect place to try these solutions before you deploy them in your macro network. As such, we are developing the SURFTM platform, an O-RAN compliant radio solution, which will include fronthaul MUX and remote units. SURF is entering proof-of-concept testing in February and will be ready for demonstration and interoperability tests with trials by Q4 or even earlier.
We will have our SURF O-RAN solution on display at Mobile World Congress next month in Barcelona, Spain. We’ll also be demonstrating our new ALLIANCE edgeROU, a small-footprint, fiber-to-the-antenna remote unit aimed at enterprise installations. We hope to see you there!