HomeInsightsAutomating optimisation introduces risk to hybrid RANs

    Automating optimisation introduces risk to hybrid RANs


    Partner content: How to mitigate the challenges Open RAN brings to managing mobile networks

    Open RAN is expected to revolutionise the telecommunications industry by introducing a more flexible and open architecture for the radio access network. Unlike traditional “proprietary” RAN systems (also referred to as closed RAN), which are often closely integrated, Open RAN promotes interoperability and disaggregation.

    This means various components of the RAN, such as radio units, baseband units, and control functions, can come from different vendors and be combined in a modular fashion. Open RAN’s biggest potential is to reduce vendor lock-in, lower infrastructure costs, and accelerate the deployment of new services.

    Integrating new tech

    As a result, many Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are looking to transition to Open RAN to keep up with the evolving demands of their customers. However, the journey towards Open RAN is not without its challenges, especially when integrating this new technology into existing proprietary RAN, giving rise to the hybrid RAN model.

    In the United Kingdom, His Majesty’s Government expects 35% the country’s mobile network traffic to be carried over Open RAN by 2030. This ambition was shared in a memorandum with the 4 UK MNOs in April 2022. Since then, operators have publicly begun to share plans and commitments about Open RAN deployments.

    Vodafone Group has confirmed that it expects to use Open RAN technology in 30% of its masts across Europe. Major operators like Telefónica, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Orange, BT, Reliance Jio, NTT Docomo have announced engagement with various trials, projects and deployments involving Open RAN.

    And while not all have been forthcoming with specific numbers for their rollout plans, it is realistic to project that the ambition of HM Government for 35% share of Open RAN architecture in the next 10 years will be a reality across many of the MNOs in Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific.

    The future RAN is hybrid

    As such, the future of mobile networks is expected to be one of a Hybrid RAN – a strategic blend of Open RAN and proprietary RAN technologies, allowing operators to leverage the best of both worlds. With this approach, MNOs can gradually migrate to Open RAN while preserving their existing investments in proprietary RAN infrastructure.

    The hybrid RAN model addresses the need for a smooth transition, enabling operators to test Open RAN solutions without disrupting their current services. However, the introduction of Open RAN into the Hybrid RAN network also brings about a host of complexities, especially when it comes to automatic optimisation.

    In proprietary RAN systems, optimisation was typically performed within a single, tightly controlled ecosystem. With Open RAN, the network is more disaggregated and vendor-neutral, which can make it challenging to implement automatic optimisation techniques effectively.

    Risk to automatic optimisation

    Automatic optimisation is a crucial aspect of managing mobile networks, as it ensures that network performance remains at its peak while minimising operational costs. It involves techniques such as self-configuration, self-optimisation, and self-healing, which use data-driven insights and machine learning algorithms to adapt to changing network conditions in real-time.

    In traditional Proprietary RAN, those functions are provided by a Self-Optimising Network (SON) component, usually available as part of the vendor’s OSS and tightly integrated within a closed architecture.

    Automatic optimisation is relatively straightforward – MNOs have a clear understanding of the network elements and configurations, which makes it easier to develop and deploy optimisation algorithms. With the introduction of Open RAN into a network, the complexity increases significantly.

    • Interoperability challenges

    Interoperability between Open RAN and proprietary RAN components can be a significant challenge. Open RAN is designed to be vendor-agnostic but integrating it with proprietary RAN infrastructure can be complex. Data exchange and communication protocols must be standardised and interoperable, which requires substantial effort and coordination among vendors.

    While Open RAN has standardised open interfaces and can make use of a centralised RAN Intelligence Controller (RIC) for automatic optimisation, the lack of interoperability with Proprietary RAN systems can result in architectural segregation.

    • Data integration and correlation

    Effective automatic optimisation relies on the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data from various network elements. In a hybrid RAN network, this data may be dispersed across multiple vendor-specific systems, making data integration and correlation a formidable task. Ensuring that data from Open RAN and Proprietary RAN components can be effectively combined for optimisation purposes is a significant challenge.

    • Complexity of network configuration

    Hybrid RAN networks can be complex in terms of network configuration and management. Operators need to carefully configure and orchestrate the various components, ensuring they work together seamlessly.

    This complexity can lead to challenges in defining and implementing automatic optimisation policies, as the network structure may not be as uniform as in a traditional proprietary RAN.

    Mitigating the risks

    Unfortunately, the RAN industry is currently hyper focused on Open RAN components and solutions, with little to no interest in the challenges that hybrid RAN will bring. Most vendors of RIC and service management and orchestration (SMO) solutions for Open RAN are eager to talk about the opportunities their products bring automate optimisation and configuration of a network but ignore the elephant in the room.

    To address the risks associated with automatic optimisation in hybrid RAN networks the industry must move as a whole and deliver on the following:

    • Interoperability: vendors of Open RAN solutions for RIC and SMO need to develop their products to support automation for proprietary RAN vendors. Supporting just Open RAN is not good enough. A RIC platform can achieve the goals of automatic optimisation on a hybrid RAN by supporting both open and proprietary interfaces, and the implementation of xApps/rApps which can work across different architectures.

    • Standardisation: the industry needs to continue working with proprietary RAN vendors for standardising interfaces and protocols, improve interoperability and simplify data integration. This initiative already exists within the context of multi-vendor centralised SON which has driven the introduction of interfaces for third-party software. With the advent of hybrid RAN a new momentum can be found to push for better and wider adoption of common standards.

    • Collaboration: close collaboration between MNOs, proprietary RAN vendors and Open RAN software vendors is essential. As the hybrid RAN challenge to automatic optimisation impacts primarily MNOs, they are the key to driving the industry in the direction of better collaboration, making the demands on vendors to improve. It is only through collaboration that standardisation and interoperability can be achieved..

    In WIM Technologies latest white paper, discover the often-overlooked world of RAN configuration management in mobile networks. While fault management grabs attention during service disruptions, persistent performance issues shape long-term customer perception.

    Today’s mobile networks are complex, with multiple technologies and vendors, requiring precise parameter management. Open RAN adds even more complexity. To navigate this, mobile operators must embrace Closed-Loop Automation, ensuring optimal performance and customer satisfaction.

    Download the white paper here.

    About Nik Angelov, Director of Product Strategy

    Nik Angelov has been leading product strategy at WIM Technologies since 2019, driving the company’s key strategic objectives for product innovation and excellence in customer service offering. His journey to this role was paved by a decade of hands-on experience in the telecoms industry, where he previously served as a technical solution manager at Ericsson.

    Over the years, Nik has cultivated expertise through collaboration with mobile operators across Europe, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region. At WIM Technologies, Nik’s primary focus revolves around the development of innovative software tailored for the management of radio networks, pioneering solutions for RAN configuration management, C-SON, and network automation.

    Collaborating with a highly proficient team of software engineers based in WIM Technologies’ South African headquarters, collectively driven by the aspiration to introduce groundbreaking applications that harness the potential of artificial intelligence and machine learning. The aim is to enable seamless zero-touch service management and orchestration for hybrid networks, bridging traditional and Open RAN systems.