Co-authored by Vikrant Dolas – Business Development Manager, Cisco India
Open Virtualized Radio Access Network i.e. “O-vRAN” has been a buzzword in the industry for quite some time now. To date, many renowned mobile industry analysts and researchers have conducted surveys on O-vRAN and revealed about the strong momentum of Mobile Network Operators (MNO) towards Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) hardware, Software Defined Networks (SDN), and Virtualization. More and more MNOs are adopting or planning to modernize their Radio Access Networks (RAN) with Open vRAN architecture.
Cisco’s Journey in O-vRAN
Cisco’s Contribution to Open vRAN Standards
Cisco an early advocate of Open Virtualized RAN, had launched “Open vRAN Ecosystem” way back in February 2018 at MWC Barcelona. With this launch, Cisco started its Open vRAN journey with like-minded partners e.g. Altiostar, Mavenir, Phazr, Tech Mahindra to name a few. The focus was to create an ecosystem that is designed to accelerate the viability and adoption of Open vRAN solution. Since then Cisco is working on architecting and building solutions, demos and trials with MNOs and helping to define open interfaces and management.
Early 2018, xRAN Forum defined the use of IETF’s NETCONF / YANG standard for programmatically configuring and managing its lower layer split RAN architecture. Cisco took a lead role working with operators and ecosystem partners, in helping the xRAN Forum define the use of NETCONF/YANG by the 5G Radio Unit. This laid the foundation for cross-domain orchestration of the RAN with other domains that had already adopted NETCONF / YANG.
Cisco’s Value Proposition
Cisco has a significant role in the Open Virtualized RAN ecosystem in the areas of automation, virtualization, software integration, infrastructure and lead integrator of the solution components. Cisco becomes the technology glue to bring together these modules thereby arriving at an end to end solution.
- Choice of virtualization & NFV
- Automation & Orchestration
- Systems integration
- Industry leading infrastructure
- Multiple choice of fronthaul, midhaul & backhaul solutions
- Most widely deployed mobile core solutions
Industry Trials, Demonstrations and Pilots
The UK government, in March 2018 funded testbed for the prestigious project “5G RuralFirst” to help the country take a leading position in 5G. The challenge was to provide secure and reliable mobile connectivity to the rural area and support rural communities and industries like agriculture, broadcasting, and utilities. Cisco led this project and supported with its 5G Core Network and Cloud service while Parallel Wireless was the part of the ecosystem with its multi-technology Open RAN solution.
In September 2018 MWC Americas at LA, Cisco demonstrated industry-first 5G SA data call using Phazr’s virtualized RAN and Cisco’s Cloud Native 5G Core. The solution also included MEC and Synamedia. (Earlier Cisco’s Service Provider Video Software Solution). In the same event, Cisco showcased a pre-certified, pre-integrated, ready to deploy end to end open vRAN system. Tech Mahindra, Altiostar and Cisco led this solution and proved that the open multivendor vRAN solutions were possible.
Recently in June 2020, Cisco and Telenor joined hands to strengthen the focus on areas like 5G, Open vRAN, and distributed Cloud to support critical infrastructure transitions for Telcos. The companies are continuing the exploration of new 5G architectures and have started an Open vRAN trial at Telenor headquarters in Norway to further investigate using a virtualized, open infrastructure to improve cost efficiency for service rollouts. A new round of financing of the joint venture, Working Group 2 (WG2) was also announced. WG2 offers a carrier-grade, cloud-native mobile core solution that enables rapid service innovation MNOs, MVNOs, and enterprises. Using open APIs and cross-network interoperability, WG2 radically transforms the ability of mobile operators to innovate quickly.
Real-World Deployments and Recognitions
While we had many demonstrations and trials of the Open vRAN solution at prominent events across the globe, the most rewarding for Cisco was the commercial deployment for Rakuten Japan in February 2019. The first-ever network that is fully virtualized from RAN to Core, leveraging mobile edge computing with end to end automation for both network and services. Cisco played a very critical role in this exciting journey alongside Rakuten and was well appreciated by the MNO emphasizing the crucial role of common and distributed telco cloud platform used to host many virtualized applications including Altiostar’s virtualized RAN applications vCU and vDU. End to end automation solution with Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP) enabled instantiation of vRAN to fully operationalize a cell site in a matter of minutes with no manual intervention, helping Rakuen to scale the network in the future at a very faster rate.
In November 2018, Cisco was recognized for its 5G leadership by winning the Fierce Innovations Award for “NextGen Deployment Wireless” for its fully virtualized deployment and E2E automation with Rakuten. This was the 3rd industry award for Cisco 5G software-defined network in 2019. The first two given to Rakuten were the Light Reading Leading Lights awards for “Most Innovative Telco Cloud Strategy by an operator” and “Most Innovative Automation Strategy by an Operator.”
The Open vRAN wave is certainly building now. More and more MNOs are thinking about getting rid of legacy architectures and embrace Open vRAN.
Bharti Airtel, India’s leading MNO decided to take this path and in April this year announced its Open vRAN deployment with Cisco and Altiostar. Bharti became the first Indian Mobile Network Operator to deploy vRAN based 4G Network that is open that is seamlessly upgradeable to 5G.
Etisalat, one of the world’s leading telecom groups, announced the successful launch of Open vRAN early this year to become the first operator to adopt the technology in the Middle East. The success of this deployment was possible with the collaboration of Etisalat, Cisco, Altiostar and NEC.
Similarly, for one of its kind projects in the aviation industry, Gogo, a supplier of broadband connectivity products and services for Aviation, last year announced Cisco, Airspan, and First RF as its partners to supply elements for its air-to-ground (ATG) 5G network for use on business aviation aircraft and commercial regional jets operating within the United States and Canada.
Collaboration with WWT and Altiostar
World Wide Technology (WWT) is a technology solution provider that provides innovative technology and supply chain solutions to large public and private organizations. WWT, from their Advanced Technology Center brings integration and deployment capabilities for operators. Recently, in April 2020, World Wide Technology (WWT) announced a collaboration with Cisco and Altiostar to develop an Open vRAN blueprint and validation lab. WWT will be taking a lead role to integrate, validate, and deliver multi-vendor solutions Thus, Service Providers will be able to see the Open vRAN solution in operation, get their hands on it, and test features that they require helping faster validation and deployment.
Cisco has been engaged with a number of mobile network operators, system integrators, and vRAN vendors since early 2018. Cisco has invested in building Open vRAN ecosystem with its partners and successfully concluded demos and trails at various forums and for MNOs. Cisco’s real-world deployments with its Open vRAN partners have earned many endorsements from the industry’s top analysts. Beyond doubt, Cisco is the trusted partner of choice for MNOs to guide them through this transition.