As network traffic continues to increase with the advent of 5G, mobile networks and the equipment they run on need to evolve quickly to become more agile, flexible, intelligent, energy-efficient and software-defined.
Broad efforts to bring agility and speed to the telecom industry started about six years ago with open source Software Defined Networking (SDN), then on to Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), then to orchestration of NFV. Open source projects like OpenDaylight, OPNFV, OpenStack, CORD, ONAP, and others have enabled more rapid innovation across telco components and the network stack.
However, the last piece of the puzzle — Radio Access Networks (RANs), which are at the edge of the network allowing physical access to devices — has a long history in full, proprietary solutions from the hardware on up to the application layer (e.g., full cell tower solutions). That makes it incredibly difficult to innovate at the same pace as the rest of the market.
Enter the O-RAN Alliance, a world-wide, carrier-led effort to drive new levels of openness in the RAN of next generation wireless systems. The organization already started evolving RANs to make them smarter and more open than previous generations by developing reference designs that contain more open, interoperable and standardized interfaces. Crucial to this effort is both whitebox network (physical) elements and software applications.
The O-RAN Alliance recently partnered with the Linux Foundation to establish the O-RAN-Software Community (O-RAN-SC), to provide that open source software application layer to the RAN. O-RAN-SC will foster development of an open source infrastructure platform for running 5G RAN solutions.
The key aspects of ORAN-SC are:
- New Open Community focused on RAN Software in collaboration with O-RAN Alliance
- Set up for collaboration across OPNFV, ONAP, Akraino and other Open Source projects
This is a big deal for the telco industry, and for 5G. Opening up that last portion of the network will allow for more rapid innovation through a common open source platform on top of which interesting applications can be built — applications that tie to the rest of the network that the industry has been working to disaggregate, via open source, for the past six years.
This impacts how we can access information and interact with devices. This open, disaggregation of the full network edge (via harmonization efforts across industries and layers of network architecture within other open source projects) will bring the power of 5G to more people at a much faster rate.