RIC Will Upset Telco Applecarts as it Becomes the Operating System for Future 5G RAN

Mainstream global deployment of Open RAN RIC will happen around 2024 and 2025
02 Jun 2021

In collaboration with global Tier-1 operators and vendor partners, O-RAN ALLIANCE aims to reshape Radio Access Network (RAN) deployment toward more intelligent, virtualized, and multi-vendor interposable strategies. By disaggregating software from hardware and developing standardized interfaces and open reference designs, a flexible and agile network architecture is expected to construct and help operators save Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and offer end-users the optimized Quality of Experience (QoE). Among many research activities, RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) platform and corresponding xAPPs/rAPPs development are mainstream focuses and have attracted much attention from the telco community. Open RAN RIC will disrupt the status quo and create new opportunities for a wider ecosystem to join this segment of the market. According to current development progress, ABI Research, a global tech market advisory firm, expects the trend of standard RIC deployment to dominate the market around 2024 and 2025.

“O-RAN ALLIANCE specified RIC framework and corresponding interfaces for both non-Real-Time (RT) RIC and near-RT RIC to address further increased network service requirements from different verticals and complex RAN operation with automation,” explains Jiancao Hou, 5G & Mobile Network Infrastructure Senior Analyst at ABI Research. “The separation of RIC functionality according to different time scales (i.e., non-RT and near-RT) aims to facilitate a vast reduction in development and deployment costs, and to help drive standardization and expand the ecosystem in a timely manner.” Moreover, “Designing non-RT RIC functionality in a Service Management and Orchestration (SMO) platform, but not the RAN itself, is to secure access to contextual information and coordinated optimization of radio resources and network policies.”

ABI Research summarizes a list of promising application use cases for RIC into three main categories, including proactive radio resource management, massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) optimization and interference mitigation, and other systematic applications such as end-to-end network slicing, Key Performance Indicator (KPI) monitoring and anomaly detection. The list does not limit the actual RIC application use cases. Depending on the specific implementation environment in either the consumer market or enterprise market, more use cases, such as precise positioning, highly accurate channel estimation, and power saving, can also be introduced for different service-level assurance.

Apart from O-RAN ALLIANCE standardization activities on open interfaces and reference designs, many developments and field tests have been conducted collaboratively among ecosystem partners to verify the solution and reshape a new business model reinvention framework. For example, ONF SD-RAN project, together with multi-vendor partners, is building an open-source O-RAN compliant software-defined RIC platform and a set of exemplar xAPPs to test the feasibility of the solution. Meanwhile, in collaboration with many Tier-1 operators, radio vendors, and system integrators, the TIP RIA subgroup also focuses on accelerating multi-vendor RIC solutions and identifying the most promising application use cases.

The development of RIC solutions is expanding rapidly, but the new approach may not be dominating the mainstream global deployment within the next 2 to 3 years due to the ongoing standardization and the lack of a mature application ecosystem. Small and niche network scenarios, such as indoor, rural, neutral host, and private network segments could be a good starting point for smaller vendors “because they don’t need to get into tangled relationships with heavy-iron telco network providers,” Hou points out. Driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML) technology and increased demands of data analysis, intelligent RAN control and automation will definitely lead to more efficient network operation and revenue streams.” However, “Before that happens, key stakeholders should take more active roles to test and verify the solution in terms of network reliability, security and performance,” Hou concludes.

These findings are from ABI Research's  RAN Automation and RIC application analysis report. This report is part of the company's 5G & Mobile Network Infrastructure research service, which includes research, data, and analyst insights. Based on extensive primary interviews, Application Analysis reports present in-depth analysis on key market trends and factors for a specific technology.

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