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…

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.

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Live streaming has become increasingly widespread. With the addition of 5G, this service can be dramatically improved at all levels, including image quality, download times, interruptions and lag. Faced with today’s generations’ enthusiasm for live feeds, researchers are now working to adapt live streaming TV so it can be done on the go. The Goal: Lag-Free Live Streams Getting closer to what’s happening live is one of the main challenges in the field of live streaming. Yet, streaming over the Internet using Wi-Fi or 4G still results in a lag of 30, 40 or even 50 seconds on tablets or smartphones. This lag will particularly hit home for any soccer fans who have ever heard their neighbor watching TV and cheering for a goal they haven’t seen yet. It also affects participants in time-limited interactive TV game shows and televised broadcasts by figures of authority in relation to announcements, alerts or disasters, for example. Ensuring service continuity, particularly when faced with high demand, is another challenge of live streaming. At Orange Innovation, researchers are therefore thinking about how they can make improvements in the field of TV streaming on the go, using a combination of 5G, video streaming technologies (multicast, low latency), network bandwidth allocation (network slicing) and edge computing. Their work has primarily focused on mutualizing streams; a key way of saving bandwidth. Dominique Thômé, Product Manager Innovation Data TV, explains that “Unlike unicast technology, which broadcasts streams as many times as there are simultaneous connections, multicast should allow a single stream to be broadcast to thousands of people connected to a large 5G zone. This mutualization prevents bandwidth loss and, consequently, service interruptions from network congestion. Another advantage, which is of great importance to Orange, is that it consumes less energy and therefore contributes to the transition to a low-carbon economy.” Recognizing the Know-How of Carriers Experiments carried out in the Orange laboratory have yielded interesting results. A real-time readjustment of video quality to prevent network saturation resulted in each customer being able to watch TV with only five seconds of lag, confirming the feasibility of 5G live streaming on the go. In fact, faced with ever-increasing volumes, some broadcasters are beginning to turn to carriers to broadcast their TV streams. They need players that are able to transmit this huge amount of data while ensuring optimal quality, in order to avoid any latency problems. Thibaut Mathieu, Director of Innovation for Interactive & Multiscreen Services at Orange says that “Our pioneering approach toward 5G live streaming highlights the valuable role that network carriers play, right at the heart of the system, compared to OTT players (“over the top,” such as the Tech Giants), both in terms of technology and business. We will be able to get involved in data transmission, with optimal mutualization technology that will save money and energy.” These technologies are consistent with Orange’s CSR commitment, both in terms of carbon footprint (lower energy consumption) and inclusion (broadcasting the right information at the right time). More than Just Entertainment The challenge goes far beyond the traditional TV broadcasting market itself. In the context of the health crisis, brands have been quick to understand the value of live streams to generate sales and are starting to venture into “Live Shopping.” Originating from China, this large-scale approach to teleshopping consists of an online event where presenters, influencers or personalities showcase products live to a digital audience who are able to order products or ask questions. Live Shopping is attracting more and more brands around the world. “With hundreds of thousands of people connected at the same time, its large scale will certainly create capacity issues” says Thômé. “This is another case where mutualization will ensure quality of service.”

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