Open RAN (for “Open Radio Access Network”) is a network architecture that, via open protocols and interfaces, makes it possible to build open smart multi-vendor radio access networks.
In a mobile network, the radio access network (RAN), made up of antennas and base stations, connects mobile terminals to the whole mobile network.
Today, the technologies implemented are created by a handful of suppliers in a proprietary logic. For all the physical and software components to work well together, operators often have to buy them from a single vendor, which generates dependence and limits the possibilities of innovation over a network’s lifetime.
In opening up the radio part to new providers, all the while ensuring that components from different vendors are interoperable so as to be able to combine and mix them, operators are seeking to make networks more flexible and scalable.
In this wider and more diverse ecosystem, RAN is broken down into several blocks; the physical and software parts are separated. This is known as “disaggregation”. The interfaces between these different blocks – such as the “fronthaul”, which connects the baseband unit (BBU) and the radio unit (RU) – are open.
Several organizations, such as the global O-RAN alliance, founded in 2018 by six operators including Orange, are working to produce the specifications of this new architecture and to facilitate the arrival of new players.
Open RAN can be deployed in conjunction with the virtualization of network functions and paves the way for network automation, thanks to technologies based on artificial intelligence and machine learning. The objectives are to reduce operational costs, make networks more agile, and improve their performances, but also to offer new innovative services to users.