Early adopters, greenfield operators, and cautious Tier 1 operators alike are pursuing Open RAN (O-RAN) to reduce costs, boost flexibility, and introduce more innovation into the network.
But alas, while proponents of O-RAN paint visions of networking nirvana, the reality is no O-RAN journey will be successful without hard work, a few missteps, and lots of learning along the way.
There are hurdles to clear. Particularly, service providers want to understand the impact of a multi-vendor, disaggregated, cloud-native O-RAN on key areas like performance, security, network responsiveness, and latency.
This means scrapping traditional testing methods and embracing rigorous, end-to-end approaches that can help stakeholders determine whether O-RAN is not just ready for prime time, but able to support transformational business visions.
Our new eBook, How to Test Open RAN, explores these new approaches for service providers eager to develop an effective, start-to-finish O-RAN testing game plan as they pursue success and cost efficiencies.
Test considerations driven by Open RAN
Rather than relying on monolithic hardware architecture, O-RAN uses distributed, multi-vendor, software-based architectures, and cloud-based virtualized infrastructures. O-RAN units (O-RU, O-DU, O-CU, O-RIC) provided by various vendors may be deployed at centralized, regional, and edge clouds.
Immediately, this raises some red flags around potential issues like:
Interoperability of O-RAN units from different vendors
Feature compatibility of cloud-native functions and other layers of the protocol stack
Performance, robustness, and scalability compared to a proprietary, fully integrated RAN
Efficient management of many asynchronous vendor software releases
Traditional, manual testing of O-RAN and its varying configurations and conditions is not timely or cost-effective. To illustrate the complexity, Radio Unit (RU) conformance and performance testing must be combined with various real-world radio channel conditions and adversarial scenarios while being tested across multiple frequencies, bandwidths, and radio capabilities. The multiplying effect on test and validation combinations increases exponentially, especially as end-to-end testing and validation are required for overall system and service performance.
Without a reassessment of test methods and incorporation of automation, the complexity of validating O-RAN would negate any agility and efficiency benefits.
A new take on testing
Determining whether an O-RAN is mature enough for deployment in a live network requires a new way of thinking about testing that focuses on automation. This involves the following approaches:
Comprehensive testing that goes beyond conformance testing to include functionality, performance, and capacity testing. First, each node is subject to emulations that replicate real-world scenarios in real-time, such as varying RF channels, user equipment behavior, or core network traffic situations. Once nodal and adjacent testing is successful, comprehensive end-to-end emulations should be performed across the RAN and core.
Automation and continuous testing that are part of an automated continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) release pipeline. Service providers can’t control the frequency or timing of vendor releases, but they must manage them with automation and continuous testing (CT). Automation needs to be built into the test solution from day one to integrate seamlessly with automated CI/CD/CT vendor release processes. Pre-built automated compliance, performance, and capacity test packs lower costs, save test development time, and support rapid, reproducible tests.
Understanding the complexities of Open RAN testing
O-RAN’s success will depend on its ability to perform at least as well as a traditional RAN. A comprehensive, automated testing solution with prepackaged test cases is essential for service providers to assess O-RAN’s readiness for deployment in the live network with a cost-effective approach.
Our eBook explores in detail the issues surrounding O-RAN testing and provides recommended test cases for each O-RAN unit, as well as end-to-end, security, fronthaul, synchronization, cloud infrastructure, and field testing.