The industry views Open RAN’s prospective benefits with great anticipation. It’s expected to deliver lower costs for vendors and operators while providing the ability to serve smaller, tightly defined 5G networks. Open RAN (O-RAN) is also envisioned to spur innovation and accelerate time to market while facilitating new monetization opportunities. But first we need to get there in good order. Understanding the challenges in that journey is part of assuring a safe and confident arrival so that.
The challenge of making O-RAN work
There are significant challenges the industry must address while building out Open RAN. In a recent poll, Spirent asked providers what the biggest challenges for O-RAN were in the near term. Responses fell into four main categories:
Similar to the challenges currently observed with SD-WAN, there are concerns about multi-vendor interoperability. Worries persist that, with standards not 100% finalized, and in the rush to bring Open RAN to market, some vendors will develop their own proprietary versions of Open RAN, which will require significant systems integration to ensure the multi-vendor products work in harmony.
Providers were also concerned about the performance and robustness of Open RAN in live deployments. They were unanimous that Open RAN must have parity with traditional RAN. A common fear they expressed was losing synchronization, as the RAN was disaggregated, moved to different locations, and comprised of disparate vendors.
The combination of disaggregation and introducing multiple vendors expands the threat surface. This requires adding security safeguards throughout the Open RAN. The fear is that this added security overhead will offset potential cost savings.
Included in this assessment is the perception that many of the new, smaller vendors appearing in the new Open RAN landscape will not provide bulletproof 24x7 support. Consequently, the realization is growing that service providers may need to provide that support on behalf of smaller vendors.
Installing and operating Open RAN will be significantly more complex and time-consuming compared to traditional RAN. And, just like security, not all the newer, smaller vendors will be up to the integration task. An emerging view is that large system integrators (SIs) or even service providers (SPs) may need to intervene as the overall integrator. The fear is that expense from such a model may offset Open RAN cost savings.
This represents another barrier to entry for SPs, as they must own the operational and automation/DevOps aspects of Open RAN. This is a new high-requirement capability, with numerous complexities and requirements for knowledge, technical capabilities, and qualified expertise for them to gain in a compressed period.
Pulling the trigger on ORAN adoption
Some business leaders think Open RAN could be a game changer. They will assess its evolution, intent on avoiding business risk, and let the early adopters prove its value before they adopt. The likelihood of Open RAN’s success, however, is not in question. The issue of adoption timing, however, can be a defining factor in an organization’s long-term success in the marketplace.
Open RAN has the potential to deliver game changing value across the telecom ecosystem, but rapid uptake will hinge on addressing concerns about maturity, costs, security risks and operational readiness. Early adoption has delivered key advantages to organizations in previous technology trends. The critical factor to achieving this is having the right testing strategy in place well before the process begins.
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