Why Using Open RAN Only For 5G is Counterproductive?

With several Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in all geographies using Open Radio Access Networks (RAN) to deploy 4G and 5G, the technology has gained significant traction over the last few years.

While the use of Open RAN in greenfield networks is well-established, the fact is that the technology can benefit the legacy networks of 2G, 3G and 4G. By bringing all communications standards, 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, on a single platform, Open RAN enhances overall network efficiency while bringing down the cost of network management.

Two major Greenfield networks, Rakuten in Japan and Dish in the US, decided to go for Open RAN because it is now proven to bring significant operational efficiencies, network simplicity and cost advantage to the telco. Furthermore, since it is powered by software, Open RAN not only reduces the deployment time but also makes it easier for the MNOs to scale, expand coverage and upgrade to new communications standards while allowing them to future-proof their investments.

Using Open RAN for all Gs
Deployment of 5G offers the MNOs a massive opportunity to improve their Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) by using Open RAN.

However, deploying Open RAN only for 5G means that they will have to manage two different types of networks: one Open RAN-based network for 5G and a legacy network for 2G, 3G and 4G.

This approach is counterproductive as the service provider will only be able to realize only the limited benefits of Open RAN. While it will be able to avoid vendor lock-in, the legacy network architecture will continue to be based on the siloed approach, thus defying the purpose of deploying Open RAN architecture. Although the service provider may experience short-term capital expenditure savings in the 5G network, the overall operational expense is likely to be 50% higher since the legacy networks will not be as power-efficient or easy to maintain.

The wide-ranging benefits of Open RAN can be realized only if the service provider uses Open RAN for All Gs while transitioning to 5G. The MNOs typically adopt a siloed approach of adding a new layer for every new communications standard. This leads to network complexity and is capital intensive to deploy and maintain. Further, RAN platforms are based on proprietary hardware, leading to vendor lock-in, preventing them from going for the latest or most cost-effective solution. The radios need to be replaced with a newer version for every new generation of technology. This is not just time-consuming but also demands a significant investment.

As the Indian operators prepare for the 5G spectrum auction to be held next month, it is a massive opportunity for them to reimagine their network architecture and use the latest open RAN technology for all Gs. Several prominent MNOs, including Vodafone and MTN, have deployed Open RAN for All Gs to improve the network economics by bringing all Gs, including 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, on one single platform. Further, it encourages innovation and vendor diversity by freeing them from the limitations of proprietary radio systems.

The Open RAN network architecture that brings together legacy and greenfield networks ensure better operational efficiency and easier management of the one cloud-native all IP network. The programmable and flexible Open RAN network architecture that unifies 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G is geared to meet the requirements for improved mobile broadband and extremely low latency for legacy and newer Gs.

The biggest advantage of the All G Open RAN is that it improves the cost economics of deploying and managing the network. It does so by bringing all Gs on one single programmable platform.

Leveraging Open RAN for better network economics
With the launch of 5G commercial services just around the corner, it is a perfect time for the Indian MNOs to enhance overall network efficiency by using Open RAN for all network standards. Bringing all Gs together on one platform is particularly relevant for Indian MNOs as India is an extremely cost-sensitive market and this will allow the MNOs to offer a quality experience while bringing down the operational cost.

5G is likely to create a cumulative economic impact of $1 trillion by 2035 in India, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Using Open RAN will also help Indian MNOs to bring down their time to market, thus ensuring faster monetization of their 5G investments. Further, India still has more than 350 million 2G users, so the MNOs will need to maintain 2G networks for a long time. This means that it would be beneficial for the MNOs to move all generations on one platform for better management.

5G is an enabler of several innovative use cases, including virtual reality, augmented reality, industry 4.0, remote surgery, immersive learning and industrial automation, among others. Further, 5G will allow networks to support several services like e-learning and e-health through digital platforms, which is more cost-effective. This is possible only if legacy Gs and 5G networks are unified on a single platform.

Adopting Open RAN for all Gs provides several benefits, including network programmability, agility, scalability, flexibility, faster time-to-market, and reduced CAPEX and OPEX. Indian telcos must leverage All G Open RAN network strategy to maximize the use of existing 2G networks while providing latest 5G use cases to their subscribers.