Exclusives : Guest Post: The Rise of International R&D Collaboration for OpenRAN Development on the Path to 6G

Guest Post: The Rise of International R&D Collaboration for OpenRAN Development on the Path to 6G

Maggie Chao, Deputy Division Director at Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), Taiwan

Over the past five years, OpenRAN has emerged as a catalyst of transformation in the telecoms sector. OpenRAN emphasises the use of software, openness, disaggregation, and interoperability in networks, promising to revolutionise the economics, performance, and sustainability of operations while also fostering a much more diverse ecosystem of players.

As the industry marches towards the introduction of 6G at the end of the decade, this new standard is expected to be characterised by cloud-native, software-driven networks built by a diverse vendor ecosystem. Therefore, the significance of OpenRAN in the transition from 5G to 6G cannot be overstated.

Challenges in OpenRAN Adoption

Despite its potential, OpenRAN remains a relatively nascent concept, necessitating a deep understanding of its implementation in real-world scenarios. The industry is looking for proof points of its success and the lack of commercial deployments, particularly among established operators, has resulted in a slower than initially anticipated uptake of OpenRAN.

While greenfield operators have showcased some implementations, the transition of OpenRAN from a conceptual framework to a practical, scalable solution is yet to be fully realised. Moreover, the novelty of OpenRAN presents challenges in terms of testing and validation. The industry lacks a robust repository of real-world data and insights to guide its deployment strategies effectively.

Testing and Validation

Central to driving the commercialisation of OpenRAN is rigorous validation of new multivendor infrastructure in a pre-deployment environment. However, this poses a unique challenge given the inherently open nature of the technology. Unlike traditional telecom innovation models characterised by closed R&D environments and proprietary protection of intellectual property, OpenRAN thrives on openness and collaboration.

To expedite its commercialisation, there must be a collective effort to share insights and learnings from international testing initiatives. Establishing standardised testing methodologies and benchmarks will be crucial in ensuring the reliability, performance, and interoperability of OpenRAN solutions across diverse deployment scenarios.

Government Support

Governments around the world are recognizing the strategic importance of OpenRAN and are actively supporting initiatives aimed at its advancement. The United States, for instance, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), has allocated substantial funding for OpenRAN research, fostering the establishment of R&D centres and satellite facilities. Similarly, the UK, Germany and Taiwan have also pledged significant investments in open connectivity solutions, further fuelling the momentum towards OpenRAN adoption. These investments not only stimulate innovation but also create an enabling environment for cross-border collaboration and knowledge exchange.

Fostering a Collaborative Ethos

Government support has not only provided financial support but has also fostered a culture of collaboration on a global scale. International initiatives, such as those between the Industrial Technology Research Institute in Taiwan, SONIC Labs in the UK, i14y Lab Germany, and the NTIA/ITS in the US, are at the forefront of facilitating collaboration and knowledge exchange in OpenRAN research and development.

These organisations, representing a diverse array of expertise and resources, have recognised the transformative potential of OpenRAN and are actively working together to advance its commercialisation. By pooling their collective insights and capabilities, they are forging a collaborative framework that transcends geographical boundaries.

At the heart of this collaboration lies the establishment of a common framework for testing and validation. Recognising the importance of ensuring interoperability and performance across different environments and use cases, these entities are collaborating to develop standardised testing methodologies and benchmarks. This common framework serves as the cornerstone for the seamless deployment of OpenRAN solutions worldwide, enabling operators and vendors to confidently adopt and integrate the technology into their networks.

An open 6G future

Looking ahead, the collective efforts of governments, industry players, and research institutions signal a promising trajectory for OpenRAN technology. By embracing openness and collaboration, the industry can overcome the barriers hindering its commercialisation and pave the way for a more inclusive, resilient and fast-moving telecoms ecosystem.

As we venture into the era of 6G, the journey towards open, interoperable networks heralds a new chapter in network development, one characterised by innovation, sustainability, and global connectivity. With continued investment, collaboration, and knowledge sharing, OpenRAN is poised to redefine the future of mobile communications and drive socio-economic development on a global scale.

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash




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