Vodafone, Cohere Technologies, VMware, Capgemini Engineering, Intel and Telecom Infra Project (TIP) have successfully demonstrated how a powerful new Open Radio Access Network (RAN) platform can further boost the capacity of 5G where multiple customers are using the same site. The successful trial is the latest step in building a cost-effective Open RAN ecosystem that will benefit Vodafone customers.
In a test laboratory, the companies increased the capacity of a 5G cell site by two-fold using a programmable, Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) supporting a mix of Open RAN components from multiple vendors. This collaboration represents a key milestone in demonstrating the potential of RIC sitting at the heart of an Open RAN installation.
The companies showed the first demonstration of 5G Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) – providing more capacity at a single cell site – running on a RIC located at a multi-vendor Open RAN test site. MU-MIMO apportions ample bandwidth to individual users connected to the same mobile site and is considered the pivotal technique to boost cell capacity in future 5G networks. It is a major development in supporting the insatiable demand for faster and more responsive digital connections to deliver high definition graphics, virtual reality, cloud and IT applications.
Based on the performance of Cohere’s Spectrum Multiplier MU-MIMO scheduler in the trial, when the technique is commercially deployed in a low-band (e.g. 700MHz) network, users will benefit from up to 2x the capacity achieved using traditional MIMO. This software can be extended to Massive MIMO in mid-band (e.g. 3.5GHz) networks in order to push capacity gains towards 4-5x.
Open RAN is considered the future of networking. With Open RAN, mobile base stations can be built using hardware and software from multiple vendors, rather than just one or two suppliers. Driven by software, it means it is easier and cheaper to extend mobile networks and carry out upgrades without replacing hardware.
The new system tested by the companies reduces the need for expensive and energy-consuming hardware within a mobile base station by up to a third. It also supports new advanced radio applications for critical business and consumer applications.
The RIC architecture, which is standardised by the O-RAN ALLIANCE, is fundamental in creating an open framework designed to further improve the cost-effectiveness of Open RAN, as well as expanding supply chain diversity, and promoting innovation. Open RAN splits or separates the radio functions of a mobile mast which means the hardware that manages the radio functions at the cell site can be reduced. At the same time, Open APIs will facilitate the integration of third-party applications allowing a diverse set of vendors to contribute with new products and services.
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The role of the participants
VMware provides an O-RAN aligned RIC platform supporting Open APIs for 3rd party applications and implements the open interface, which has been enhanced with pre-standard capabilities, towards the baseband. The first use case integrated with VMware’s RIC platform is Cohere’s application. Capgemini’s software includes the required baseband radio functions to execute MU-MIMO related actions. Intel’s FlexRAN software delivers the 5G New Radio (NR) physical layer and contributes with the COTS hardware to host both VMware’s RIC platform and Capgemini’s baseband.
TIP OpenRAN launched RAN Intelligence and Automation (RIA) to become the industry’s vehicle to aggregate MNO use cases for RIC platforms and to develop, test and deploy specific solutions for these use cases. Initiatives like this collaboration will stimulate the ecosystem, accelerate early adoption of RIC in Open RAN deployments and catalyse contributions to O-RAN specifications.
Francisco Martín, Head of Open RAN at Vodafone, said: “This initiative validates the role that this powerful new platform plays in defining Open RAN as the future of networking. It boosts capacity for customers when they need it most, reduces the need for expensive hardware by a third and cuts down on energy consumption. These time and cost savings will ultimately encourage the introduction of new, innovative services.”
“We are pleased to work with Vodafone and ecosystem partners to demonstrate the power of our Spectrum Multiplier software with MU-MIMO. It shows how the functionalities held remotely can provide mobile network providers with the flexibility to keep network intelligence localised at the tower, or hosted at the edge data centre, while improving spectrum assets,” said Ray Dolan, Chairman and CEO with Cohere Technologies.
“VMware’s RIC platform will play an important role in virtualization and disaggregation of the RAN as communications service providers, including Vodafone, use it to build and deploy applications across its RAN that optimize network performance and deliver new capabilities,” added Sachin Katti, Telco Strategy Advisor at VMware.
Brian Bronson, President Americas and Asia-Pacific for Capgemini Engineering, said: “This collaboration with our ecosystem partners demonstrates the real value of Open RAN, where we’re bringing in best-of-breed 5G RAN baseband software components and cutting-edge RIC innovation to support industry leading O-RAN use cases such as MU-MIMO.”
“Intel’s technology integrated into this initiative provides validation to the industry that our joint innovative solutions meet the high standards and multi-faceted requirements of the 5G network for connectivity, coverage and performance.” said Cristina Rodriguez, VP of Intel Data Platforms Group.
“Taking a use case from the requirements phase to a working, value enhancing solution that is fulfilled by multiple parties working together is the guiding principle upon which TIP RIA was founded” said Dave Hutton, Chief Engineer, TIP.