Open RAN and Antenna Manufacturers, Where Do They Gel?

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By Dean Tan | 2Q 2022 | IN-6519

Open RAN is here to stay, and Massive MIMO is essential for Mobile Networks Operators in the 5G era. To complement and be on-par with legacy vendors’ capabilities, Open RAN will need to address the Massive MIMO segment. Antenna manufacturers play a key role in the Massive MIMO active antenna and therefore a natural step for them to join the Open RAN ecosystem.

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Antenna Manufacturers Jumping on the Open RAN Bandwagon

NEWS


CommScope, a leading wireless infrastructure provider, is no unknown in the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) space. Back in 2020, the company has been tackling the subject with Research and Development activities and participation in the O-RAN Alliance. However, in February of 2022, CommScope officially announced its collaboration with Meta Connectivity on their Evenstar project. Evenstar is a Telecom Infra Project (TIP) to provide alternative supply for RAN equipment and support O-RAN development. The collaboration will see the parties developing reference designs for Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO). Around the same period, Amphenol Antenna Solutions also announced at Mobile World Congress 2022 that they are working with their O-RAN partners to develop O-RAN-compliant 5G Massive MIMO active antennas.

A Rationale Choice Indeed for Independent Antenna Manufacturers

IMPACT


When we think about the O-RAN, antenna manufacturers do not necessarily come straight to mind. Often, we will think about the radio vendors but never the former. That is true as the O-RAN is about open fronthaul, open interfaces in the radio units, baseband units, and other components in the radio access network (e.g., RAN Intelligent Controller or Service Management Orchestration). However, the vision for O-RAN is to achieve performance on-par with traditional RAN equipment and scalable deployments. As such, one of the key pieces of equipment for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the 5G era is the Massive MIMO solution, which is an “active” antenna—an antenna integrated with radio unit. A Massive MIMO solution is an active antenna where the antenna elements are integrated with the radio unit to form a single unit. It typically has 32 or 64 transmitting and receiving antenna arrays, also known as 32T32R or 64T64R. For a more in-depth analysis on active antenna, refer to ABI Research’s report: Clarifying the Role & Relationships of Passive and Active Antennas.

Massive MIMO substantially increases spectral efficiency to deliver more network capacity and wider coverage. This is in anticipation of the growing demand for internet connectivity and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) need to meet the demand. Given the importance of Massive MIMO in the 5G era, O-RAN must also create its own O-RAN Massive MIMO “standard” to satisfy the requirements of MNOs. This cannot be done without the antenna manufacturers providing their expertise in the design of Massive MIMO.

As O-RAN Drives Forward, More Will Join the Bandwagon

RECOMMENDATIONS


O-RAN is unlikely to take over completely, as “traditional” RAN solutions will remain a feature of the landscape. O-RAN is here to stay as the ecosystem and standards continue to develop in both performance and in scale. MNOs increasingly thrown their weight behind the O-RAN initiative. Indeed, this is accelerating. For example, one of the champions for O-RAN, Vodafone, announced their target is for 30% of their European cell sites to be O-RAN while NTT DoCoMo has announced they have 20,000 cell sites which are O-RAN compliant. AT&T and Dish are another two MNOs who are driving the O-RAN developments in United States.

Considering the inevitable position of O-RAN in the market, its aspirations, coupled with the need for Massive MIMO antennas by MNOs, are a slowly developing ecosystem which antenna manufacturers can tap into. For CommScope, joining the Evenstar program was an invaluable step forward which enhances the company’s future competitiveness in the O-RAN market. Interoperability is not straightforward especially with so many vendors, which is envisaged in O-RAN ecosystem. Therefore, jumping into the game early could be beneficial through gaining advantage from learning economies and establishing the processes and partnerships.

It is a positive sign for the O-RAN ecosystem that antenna manufacturers are joining the O-RAN bandwagon. They are one of the crucial pieces in enabling the future development of a performance orientated O-RAN 5G Massive MIMO. Certainly, radio vendors have already began their development of O-RAN Massive MIMO solutions, as per NEC’s example. However, the vision of O-RAN is one which caters to heterogenous requirements with flexibility in equipment choice. Through contribution in O-RAN, antenna manufacturers would benefit the ecosystem not only in its participation but also enabling the development of more vendors. Certainly, the development of O-RAN compliant Massive MIMO solutions may not be a quick one, but it will have a number of MNOs, radio and antenna vendors taking a keen interest in it.

 

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