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What Is O-RAN? Open RAN Explained

Wondering what ORAN is and how it works? We’ll explain its specifications and how it is relevant to private mobile networks.

What Is ORAN?

ORAN, or Open Radio Access Network, is a type of wireless network in which the individual components have been disaggregated and instantiated in open source software.  

By using the open source model, any organization is capable of using these components, as open source software is free and available to anyone. This open-source form of networking was designed to allow mobile operators and other organizations to build a RAN using whichever components they prefer, regardless of which vendor created them.

This drastically helps simplify wide-scale communication by using community standards that enable network operators to scale even further and serve more devices. Enterprises are also able to use the components that best fit their needs - as long as the technology can be translated to real benefits and is translated seamlessly to enterprise IT and industrial IoT infrastructures. Promoting an open standard helps reduce infrastructure costs for public mobile network deployments as well as creates opportunities for smaller vendors and organizations to launch their own services and technologies.

The ORAN Alliance

The ORAN Alliance is a global community of mobile network operators, vendors, and academic institutions working together in the RAN industry.

Founded in 2018 by AT&T, the alliance’s primary goal is to move the industry forward to use technology and virtualization to achieve fully interoperable mobile networks while improving existing technologies in the RAN space. The ORAN Alliance is made up of 15 members who include some big names like AT&T, Verizon, and Telekom.

The alliance is a neutral party that doesn’t involve itself with government agendas or politics but instead focuses on three different technical aspects of ORAN to help achieve their goals.

  • Academics works with industry leaders to help build and improve upon new open standards for intelligent RAN.
  • Community integration and testing is improved by supporting ORAN companies, and helps organizations integrate their systems into an ORAN architecture.
  • The ORAN software community builds ORAN software stacks and protocols to integrate with other systems, improve performance, and fix bugs.

What Is a BBU, and Why Is It Important in an O-RAN?

One of the most common components that are disaggregated into open source software is the BBU or baseband unit. The BBU is the primary component in cellular networks that is responsible for transmitting data across a RAN. Historically different vendors such as Ericsson and Nokia sell their 4G BBUs to mobile operators like Verizon and T-Mobile to meet the specifications of their respective networks.

In an ORAN architecture, The 5G network architecture breaks the functions of the 4G BBU into a radio unit (RU), distributed unit (DU), and centralized unit (CU). Because 5G decouples the RU, DU, and CU, it provides much more flexibility for carriers.

Now, over 127 different vendors support ORAN, which uses a community standard form of communication to allow any network or device to interact with any ORAN baseband unit. As demand for services such as 5G sharply increases, network operators need to become even more clever in how they operate their ORAN and manage their BBUs.

In an ORAN, virtual baseband units can become pooled together in a single location to better allocate how cellular resources are distributed. A BBU pool, or sometimes referred to as a BBU hotel, helps dynamically allocate network resources to remote cellular towers based on the current network needs, or preprogrammed SLAs.

As more cellular service providers become untethered from their closed, vendor-specific baseband units, the opportunity to serve larger areas more efficiently opens up dramatically using ORAN networks.

Different Types of RAN Architecture

All ORAN networks enable communication across network elements of various origins. In the past, the entire system would otherwise be locked to a specific vendor. ORAN architectures can be built differently depending on the needs of the mobile operator.

Much of this technology relies on replacing or modifying the baseband unit (BBU) of cellular networks so that they are instantiated in open source software and can thus communicate with more devices and other ORAN cellular networks. Let’s take a look at the three different types of RAN networks and see how they accomplish creating open source networks.

  • Open RAN or ORAN works by replacing legacy vendor-specific interfaces and equipment on the cellular tower and radio unit. Once replaced, the tower will be able to use the ORAN community standards to serve a wider variety of devices.
  • C-RAN or Cloud/Centralized-RAN achieves interoperability by leveraging advancements in wireless technology and IT network infrastructure. Rather than using a smaller cluster of cellular base stations, C-RAN uses Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing to broadcast over vast distances to a single centralized tower. This allows for connectivity across multiple vendor devices over large geographic areas.
  • V-RAN or Virtual RAN works by separating the hardware from the software to allow network operators to completely virtualize the BBU and have it run on any generic hardware platform as software.

How ORAN Paves the Way for 5G

With the implementation of 5G, traditional RANs can act as a bottleneck for widespread usage and adoption. The ORAN Alliance has helped outline 5G RAN architecture that will bridge the gap between vendors, and allow for hardware-agnostic communications over long distances.

5G networks are currently working on expanding and utilizing more virtual hardware and centralized architectures. As demand for 5G skyrockets, so does the complexity across global mobile networks. To combat this, cloud-based deep learning algorithms are being developed to help automate network maintenance, and optimize connection paths.

For example, artificial intelligence can monitor BBU pools to allocate resources and correct over utilization automatically. At this scale, it becomes impractical to use humans to perform these tasks.

Due to their open nature, ORANs provide the perfect platform for artificial intelligence and machine learning systems. This allows for deep insights and analytics that are not possible through traditional RANs. Standardizations allow for much more information sharing and data analysis which can help optimize traffic flow without human intervention.

When comparing ORANs to traditional RANs, it’s easy to see why open source is attractive for mobile operators. By simplifying communication under one open standard, networks can save on infrastructure costs, streamline their deployments, and provide better coverage at a much lower energy consumption rate.

While this model works well for mobile operators, it is generally too complex for most enterprises that may be interested in deploying a private cellular network.

ORAN In The Enterprise

To better serve enterprise clients, new mobile network platforms have emerged to reduce the complexity and expense associated with ORAN-powered networks. Here at Celona, we simplify the adoption of ORAN specifications, translated to enterprise IT and OT infrastructures, and deliver our customers private mobile networks with an integrated and end-to-end 5G LAN solution.

This makes deploying private LTE / 5G wireless connectivity as simple as configuring a Wi-Fi network. Cellular access points, mobile core, and management / operations platforms are pre-packaged and designed to work together to provide end-to-end 5G service tailored to the customer’s environment.

The benefits of private 5G make its benefits for enterprise environments undeniable, but getting there is not going to be easy by simply adopting ORAN specifications - without the translation to enterprise connectivity, security and operations. Thankfully, streamlined integrations and pre-packaged solutions such as Celona’s will help promote ubiquitous private 5G across the enterprise. 5G LANs can now be deployed alongside existing Wi-Fi and wired access networks and make use of backbone campus / wide area network already in place.

This flexibility means enterprises can start implementing the benefits of the ORAN specifications and the 5G technology in an agile, scalable, and cost-effective manner that was previously not possible.

The Celona Solution

Celona partners with enterprises, IT channel partners, market leading technology companies and managed service providers to help build, manage, and grow private mobile networks. Organizations can predictably deploy new business digital initiatives through a combination of software, hardware, and AI technology. Celona’s cloud-native operating system is fully compliant with ORAN Alliance specifications and helps translate them to enterprise IT and OT connectivity, security and operational requirements.

From hardware implementation to network management, every aspect of a Celona 5G LAN is designed to work out-of-the-box, providing the only true turnkey solution in the private mobile network space.

If you’re looking to build your private mobile network rapidly, we can help. Check out our network planner or experience our solution at your facility through our free trial.

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