Opening up the 5G Radio Access Network


One of the most important things about 5G that nobody understands is that it’s a software-based, modular system. The Open RAN Policy Coalition is one of the chief organizations working to ensure that modular small cell base stations become a pervasive reality.

When I say modular I mean the hardware and software inside a 5G small cell can be combinations of parts from different vendors. So it’s modular like a Windows or Linux PC, not a Mac where there are pieces alright, but they all come from the same vendor.

In this episode, also available as a video on YouTube and Facebook, Open RAN Policy Coalition Director Diane Rinaldo and AT&T VP of Security and Technology Policy Chris Boyer explain how it all fits together.

OK, So What’s a Radio Access Network?

A RAN is essentially a base station and all the things inside it: a radio, a digital signal processor, a baseband unit, a general-purpose microprocessor, an operating system, network management code, a control plane, a data plane, and a host of utilities and application code.

In 5G these parts don’t even all need to exist inside a single base station unit, they can be distributed across a group of base stations and some can be in the cloud. Opening up the RAN by defining interfaces between the various modules enables suppliers to compete as specialists in smaller areas than entire base stations.

If a service provider isn’t happy with the monolith suppliers – Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, Huawei and ZTE – they can piece together an Open RAN by combining components from suppliers of chips, circuit boards, and software. They can also buy complete Open RAN systems from system integrators who do the combining on their own.

Build a Better Widget and the World Will Beat a Path to Your Door

Hence, creating an Open RAN industry means defining a standardized architecture and clearing regulatory barriers to its adoption. The Open RAN Alliance has created the architecture and the Open RAN Policy Coalition does the policy work.

Open RAN Reference Architecture

Some implementations are open source. some are modified open source, and some are proprietary. And some of the monolith suppliers use open interfaces to allow their customers to operate base stations that are part Open RAN and part proprietary.

Open RAN is all about choice.

What’s in this Podcast

The podcast features Diane Rinaldo, the Director of the Open RAN Policy Coalition and Chris Boyer, VP of Global Security and Technology Policy at AT&T. Both are long-time players in the world of tech policy.

Diane introduces us to the 50 or so members of the coalition and explains its work on policy. Chris fills in the technical side of the discussion and explains the Coalition’s role in standards development.

Coalition members are engaged in some exciting demonstrations and some real network builds, especially Rakuten and Reliance Jio. Rakuten is building a new nationwide 4G/5G network in Japan, and Reliance Jio, creator of the world’s largest mobile network, is blanketing India with 5G.

These activities are quite literally game-changers for billions of people around the world. If you don’t already know about Open RAN you really should check out this podcast.