In 2021, positive forecasts of the Open RAN market start gaining ground in the industry. It is predicted that the total RAN market will reach 10% by 2025 compared to less than 1% today . Undoubtedly, Open RAN lab trials and live deployments help close performance gaps between open and proprietary RAN solutions. It may take three to five years for this new technology to fully mature, but economic and competitive forces are in some ways converging to drive the market forward.
A mix of technology and social changes
In the post-pandemic world, the ‘new normal,’ particularly work from home and online live classes, hits the wave of several technology trends including 5G, cloud virtualization, distributed edge computing and artificial intelligence (AI)–driven automation. Not only do these trends push telcos to expand network footprint to meet the needs of enterprise and residential consumers, but also to accelerate the adoption of Open RAN to evolve to 5G.
As demand rises, service providers need to meet this by network upgrades. O-RAN offers a new technical solution to address this, with significant impacts beyond technology. Technically, O-RAN functional splits based on 7.2x meets this challenge by providing a new functional split between the distributed units (DUs) and radio units (RUs). The physical layer (PHY) is broken down into low-PHY staying in the RUs and high-PHY in DUs. Thanks to O-RAN’s standardized interfaces that support both high-level split (HLS) and low-level split (LLS), fronthaul can scale efficiently from conventional RUs used in LTE up to high bandwidth and massive MIMO in 5G.
While an important technical achievement, O-RAN’s biggest impact might be on investment protection and environmental sustainability. No longer will changing suppliers for site upgrades require discarding equipment still within its financial lifetime, creating electronic waste. O-RAN offers a sustainable and financially attractive approach to building networks.
Enterprise market is gaining momentum
In recent years, Open RAN is picking up the pace as the ecosystem develops, partnerships form, suppliers ramp up investments and operators commit to trials and deployments. By leveraging the openness of the new technology, operators can keep their legacy networks, and at the same time, create new revenue streams through delivering differentiated customer services. Examples include developing enterprise markets with private networks for Industry 4.0 to enable robotic workforce in factories or for public utilities to monitor consumption of resources.
However, 5G is of no use to enterprises unless they can bring that connectivity indoors. While LTE has limitations when penetrating buildings, millimeter wave (mmWave) is incapable of it without additional infrastructure. Fortunately, enterprises do not necessarily need blanket coverage for 5G and can point coverage at specific areas of their facilities where it is needed. Using legacy 4G/LTE networks as a way to provide great coverage to staff in workplaces, 5G will redefine how they work so to say.
Moving forward, interoperability will be a significant challenge as Open RAN moves from specifications to implementation and deployment. The performance will be a key area of focus for the O-RAN stakeholders to prioritize their business allocations. The good news is that whether Open RAN or 5G, the solutions are available for engineers to overcome these challenges. By the time these challenges can be qualified as early teething problems to be solved over time, the rewards will speak for themselves.
1Reference: Open RAN Set to Capture 10% of Market by 2025, Matt Kapko, SDxCentral, LLC, September 3, 2020, https://www.sdxcentral.com/articles/news/open-ran-set-to-capture-10-of-market-by-2025/2020/09/