Network builders frustrated by lack of equipment options
Open RAN still isn’t quite open enough, BT’s chief architect, Neil McRae has told Telecom TV. There is too little room to manoeuvre and network builders won’t be inspired by disaggregated radio access networks (RANs) until there are more companies creating different chipsets and components for communications equipment. This is an ecosystem suffering from a lack of diversity. In an interview for TelecomTV’s Open RAN Summit, McRae welcomed the positives from the emerging RAN designs. But there are negatives holding the O-RAN movement back, such as the delusion that network operators are already enjoying more purchasing power, wider choices and improved economics.
There may be “more people to buy from, but I’m not sure the technology is wildly different between them,” McRae told TelecomTV’s deputy editor, Yanitsa Boyadzhieva, “look at the underlying chipsets and capabilities, are they really that different?” The chipsets for a distributed unit, for example, come from a limited number of the usual suppliers with no newcomers presenting fresh ideas. “It’s great that there’s more choice at one level, there’s much more the industry must do to improve the availability of key components and right now we’re in a supply chain crunch,” said McRae. BT’s chief architect is not dismissing Open RAN’s offerings altogether. BT and Nokia are exploring the potential of the RAN intelligent controller (RIC) in a trial.
The RIC is one of Open RAN’s greatest strengths and BT is trying to fully comprehend its powers. “It allows us to drive the network in a much more refined and granular way, to be able to adjust the experience for customers depending on the situation and really run the radio network much more in real time, rather than changing it on perhaps a weekly, monthly or even an annual basis,” said McRae. While the results of the trials have been good it’s still very early to make those purchasing decisions. “We’re seeing a lot of positive things,” said McRae, who has previously mocked some of the claims of the Open RAN faithful, “It’s not going to save us tons of money but it will allow us to increase the performance of the radio network.”