Despite debate about robustness, performance, and interoperability, O-RAN continues to cut a widening path like a snowball down the mountain. And it’s gaining velocity and mass by the day.
While most stakeholders remain toe-in-the-water, the majority already seem to anticipate a future with O-RAN. At this point, it’s just a matter of when.
According to two recent surveys Spirent conducted, there’s one key driver that will ultimately determine adoption timelines and strategies: confidence. The operator community is being presented with the promise of lower costs, more innovation, accelerated time to market and new monetization opportunities. Now, development and QA teams, and their partners, need to determine how to make it all a reality.
When diving into the survey data, we weren’t surprised to see multi-vendor interoperability cited as the biggest near-term challenge by 40% of our respondents. But one emerging trend that stood out for us was that nearly one-fifth of respondents believe performance and robustness is the most significant near-term challenge. The translation? “O-RAN is happening, and we’ve got to figure out how to match what’s expected from traditional RAN networks, ASAP, despite it still being so early in the game.”
The right approach at the right time
Our survey results also revealed that more than one-third of operators believe O-RAN is already mature enough for limited use. Some respondents believe O-RAN will be in a place to initially support private networks, rural, and indoor deployments early on. A majority of respondents believe full maturity is still 1-2 years away, at which point a critical mass of operators expects multi-vendor to be a reality.
We saw a recognition for the need to support requirements for key features such as multi-element antennas utilizing Massive MIMO (Multiple-Input Multiple-Output) and digital beamforming for high-precision beams to provide high-speed, high-capacity communications between a wider range of terminals. Compliance with certain emergency capabilities and regulatory requirements were also prominent concerns. Regardless of where any given operator ultimately falls on the adoption curve, it’s clear that more signs (and expectations) point to the importance of being ready sooner than initially anticipated. At the very least, it’s critical to understand ORAN’s impact as quickly as possible, where planned strategies meet business and technical goals, and where they fall short.
We recently broke down what this exploration process looks like in ourpost. Bottom line: test early, test in isolation, test different combinations, test end-to-end, and emulate real traffic and radio scenarios along the way. Then repeat, repeat, repeat, with continuous testing driven by next-gen automation.
O-RAN will be a learning curve. All the testing and planning that happens in advance of deployment is the first step. From there, it’s about building that confidence across architectures, processes, and teams. For some, that will mean kicking off with a single-vendor approach and expanding out from there. Whatever the approach, we know no two journeys will be the same.
O-RAN will be a learning curve. All the testing and planning that happens in advance of deployment is the first step. From there, it’s about building that confidence across architectures, processes, and teams.
Partners in prime position
When we asked respondents who they plan to work with as a prime integrator, more than one-third responded that they’d be working with a systems integrator. Just one-fifth plan to engage a traditional RAN vendor, with fewer planning to rely on a new O-RAN vendor. Only 8% planned to leverage an in-house team.
Operators are figuring out who they can trust to support such a large-scale, complex, unprecedented initiative. This will prove a challenge in itself as vendor onboarding for Tier 1 operators is typically a substantial, intensive undertaking. Some operators may even find that their traditional internal criteria can’t be met by new O-RAN vendors. There will be some risk, no matter how you cut it. All eyes are on testing to mitigate that risk at every stage of the process, eventually serving in a continuous validation capacity as changes occur in the live network.
Once again, it all comes down to confidence. There must be confidence in performance, robustness, scale, compliance, security, and maintenance – and with the assured promise that costs will fall where they are supposed to.
Make no mistake, it is next-gen test and automation that will ultimately reveal the best path forward. No matter the approach, all roads seem to lead to ORAN. Now it’s just figuring out the best way to get there.
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