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“Operators are used to single-neck-to-choke scenarios”

In this interview with Pratima Harigunani, he explains why the operationalisation of an Open RAN solution, too many changes too soon, inadequate transparency across components, and how overall problem-resolution complexity are real impediments to Open RAN’s acceleration.

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VoicenData Bureau
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Open RAN

With extensive experience in Telecom, Networking, and Semiconductors, he has steered Airtel’s ORAN strategy, Jio’s disaggregated product development, and more. Manish Gangey, Executive President–Product Line Management at HFCL, has led multi-functional teams in product line management, R&D, engineering, supply chain, and business development during his 30 years of career. In this interview with Pratima Harigunani, he explains why the operationalisation of an Open RAN solution, too many changes too soon, inadequate transparency across components, and how overall problem-resolution complexity are real impediments to Open RAN’s acceleration. Excerpts:

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What is your reckoning of Open RAN’s progress? Would you call the current state of Open RAN open?

Open RAN aims to have open, inter-operable standard interfaces beyond what 3GPP prescribes. Some interfaces are more developed than others; for example, open fronthaul is more evolved than an E1 or E2 interface. The problem with open RAN is not the state of the standard but the operationalisation of an open RAN solution. Operators are used to single-neck-to-choke scenarios when they need to make a single call in case of issues in the network; now, they have to determine which part of the solution is creating the issue in the network. This requires both skills and knowledge of the internal workings of the solution as a whole. Therefore, you see a deal like AT&T-Ericsson where they feel they get the best of both worlds.

So, is it a problem of complexity? How do technologies like virtualisation, Cloud RAN and Massive MIMO play out in this context?

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Open RAN is attempting two major changes to the radio network: openness through open interfaces and disaggregation of hardware from software. This creates a complexity that people outside of operators usually underestimate. In the technology world, new concepts bring complexity to deployment and operations before they get to simplification. The virtualisation and cloud concepts are alien to the network world, especially radio access networks.

It would take time for these to be understood, mastered, and then deployed at scale. So, in some sense, the introduction of too many changes has hampered adoption.

What about interoperability at the level of the Distributed Unit (DU) and Centralised Unit (CU) or between DU and the Remote Unit (RU), and the area of fronthaul?

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Interoperability works well when both sides are looking to be transparent. The DU-CU splits are not as challenging as DU-RU splits because, in the former case, both components typically come from the same vendor, whereas in the latter case, they can come from two vendors. The fronthaul specs have been evolving and are much better today than when they started, but it is more about how to make two functions talk to each other without going through an extensive and expensive code reworking.

"Open RAN is attempting two major changes to the radio network: openness through open interfaces and disaggregation of hardware from software."

What about the equation between hardware and software in RAN?

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Disaggregation of hardware and software comes with its own set of challenges. Traditional architectures always had the advantage of tweaking the functionality to suit their system design guidelines. When some of these nuances in design have to be communicated to a third party, it becomes complicated. Over time, these nuances in design requirements would become better known for the individual system components to be more independent. But, if this is against opening up the interfaces in an open-source model, it was only to gain time against what is inevitable.

Who will take the lead, or rather who should?

In our view, the open RAN renders itself very well to private 5G network deployments. In the telecom operator market, Open RAN deployments will have to be led by Tier-1 operators because of their ability and resources to handle the complex integrations and leverage to influence incumbents to open up the interfaces. This will allow small and innovative companies to build solutions from which the industry can benefit.

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We have a success story in the making at a few places like Dish in the US and another smaller operator in Germany. We should not evaluate the impact of open RAN through these; instead, we should evaluate it from the perspective of what type of innovations this brings to the industry.

Are there any other important factors to consider when evaluating the openness of RAN?

The semiconductor ecosystem for RAN systems must become wider for the industry to flourish. At the moment, very few players are operating in the market, and hence, support is required for start-ups to contribute to this space. 

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MANISH GANGEY

Executive President–Product Line Management, HFCL

pratimah@cybermedia.co.in

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