O-RAN, or OpenRAN, is a vendor-neutral approach to Radio Access Network (RAN) technologies such as antennas, masts and small cells.
The RAN market has traditionally been dominated by the “big three” of Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia, and characterized by highly integrated hardware and software that makes it impossible to mix and match innovations.
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In contrast, Open RAN offers standardized designs that allow a variety of firms to supply hardware and software. Operators benefit from increased innovation from a wider range of suppliers, reduced costs and greater flexibility because the threat of vendor lock-in is reduced.
What this means for consumers is better 5G networks, while businesses gain new services that would otherwise been impossible.
Google says OpenRAN is an opportunity to reduce costs, scale and complexity and wants to bring its track record of software innovation to the O-RAN Alliance's commercialization efforts, citing Go, Android and Kubernetes as examples.
It also wants to use its experience of building its own scalable network to support it services and its machine learning capabilities to help create ‘zero touch’ automated 5G networks.
“We believe that industry-wide open reference architectures and interfaces for RAN are key to driving innovation across communication service provider (CSP) mobile networks—with the O-RAN ALLIANCE driving significant advances in the RAN layer and already gaining traction with a number of large CSPs who have become early adopters of the standard,” said Amol Phadke, Managing Director, Telecom Industry Solutions and Ankur Jain, Senior Director and Distinguished Engineer, Telecom at Google Cloud.
“O-RAN specifications will also create conditions for enhanced network security and enable a more competitive and vibrant RAN supplier ecosystem with faster innovation to improve user experience and unlock new CSP operating models.”
Google’s membership of the O-RAN Alliance is further evidence of the increasing convergence of the telecoms and technology worlds. 5G’s ultrafast speeds, enhanced capacity and ultra-low latency of 5G will allow mobile networks to power mission-critical applications for the first time and allow for the creation of entirely new use cases.
However, this requires operators to rearchitect networks away from centralised, legacy core infrastructure and towards the cloud. By virtualizing network functions, operators can rollout new services more rapidly, dynamically allocate resources to where they are most needed, and bring processing capabilities closer to the point of collection.
Google has teamed up with Ericsson to bring the former’s compute capabilities to the 5G edge. The two companies will work together on joint-products for customers and launch a pilot with Italian telco TIM.
The operator will deploy enterprise applications at the edge of a live network, automating cloud applications and the core functions of the 5G network. This will allow the partners to see how TIM’s Telco Cloud infrastructure, Google Cloud services and Ericsson’s 5G core network and orchestration capabilities operate in a real world setting.
“Organizations have a tremendous opportunity to digitally transform their businesses with 5G and cloud capabilities like artificial intelligence and machine learning at the edge,” said Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud CEO.
“We are proud to partner with Ericsson to help build a foundation for communications service providers and enterprises alike to take advantage of cloud technology and cloud-native services, from telecom network core to the edge and enterprise premises.”
Google’s other ventures in the area have included a partnership with Nokia, which is also moving its own infrastructure to the cloud, and a project with Vodafone that will see the creation of an “industry-first” global data platform.
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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.