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How will open RAN shape the success of 5G use-cases

“Data is the new oil and 5G is the pipeline” – has become a popular catch phrase in the telecom industry in recent times with the roll out of 5G. It certainly has a slew of bells and whistles like superior speeds, lower latency, and better reliability to cause this buzz.

According to a prominent organization, 5G use-cases could boost the global GDP by USD 2 trillion by 2030. However, the burning question remains, “how will operators monetize 5G and achieve its full potential?” The answer may lie in the following two pillars: (a) conceptualizing use-cases and applications that will enhance user experience, and (b) leveraging the movement toward open, disaggregated, and virtualized network architecture.

Let’s address both of these aspects in the following sections.

Categories of 5G use-cases that will fundamentally enable 5G monetization:
For understanding the utilitarian aspects of 5G, we have grouped the use-cases into three broad categories. These are superior mobile broadband, advanced IoT, and mission critical applications.

Superior mobile broadband
Advancements in functional 5G drivers like enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) can immensely help the telecom players and connected sectors. They can tap 5G for offering virtual and mixed reality services, HD cloud gaming, massive content streaming, remote health examination, etc.

With more bandwidth at disposal, 5G can improve their enterprise services through network separation, virtualization, software-defined networking, mobile edge computingl and cloud. The role of each of these technologies is covered in the later sections.

Advanced internet of things (IoT)
5G will be at the forefront of the revolution across industry verticals like manufacturing, energy, utilities, healthcare, transportation, and logistics. Massive machine-type communication (MTC) is the arm of 5G driving such use-cases. Enterprises can leverage MTC to derive value from different pockets of IoT and industrial IoT.

Some examples of MTC include smart logistics, smart metering, smart consumer wearables, environmental management, intelligent surveillance, video analytics, and smart retail.

Mission-critical applications
Commonly known as mission-critical services (MCS), these applications are hallmarked with high-precision monitoring and tighter control requirements. Some examples of MCS include autonomous vehicles, drones and robotic applications, health monitoring systems/telehealth, intelligent transportation, factory automation, remote surgeries, and so on.

A robust technology architecture, based on an open radio network, can help market participants achieve economies of scale for the 5G use-cases. In the below section, we have explained how an open radio access network can shape the success of 5G use-cases.

5G use-cases need an open radio access network for commercial success.
Service providers have been densifying and scaling their network multi-folds to meet the massive data and use-case requirements. However, the lack of diversity in 5G network infrastructure offerings has been an impediment for operators.

Open RAN promises better network economics for the service provider community. By enabling cloudification through disaggregation of hardware and software components, and opening up of interfaces between network elements while standardizing them, it offers a path toward better network economics.

Main attributes of open RAN that make 5G network future-ready
Open standard. Open standard interfaces enable operators to use different network elements, such as the radio unit (RU), distributed unit (DU), and centralized unit (CU) for5G or RU and baseband unit – (BBU) for 4G/LTE, from different vendors to create a seamless multi-vendor network.

Commercial off the shelf (COTS) deployment. Provides flexibility in procuring network equipment at a lower cost.

Disaggregation. Ensures decoupling of hardware from software so that operators can source RAN elements from a diverse set of vendors.

RAN intelligent controller (RIC). Improves overall operations and network management by automating regular functions, while enabling network slicing to support multiple services and applications concurrently. The RIC optimizes the utilization of physical and logical resources to support near-real-time and non-real-time applications, providing better TCO overall.

Virtualization. Allows for key network functions and capabilities to be enabled through software, thus reducing the dependency on hardware. This provides operators the means to scale the network with greater agility and with lower operational costs.

Operators will have the tools to leverage the full benefits of 5G use-cases. Moreover, they will be able to transition to an open network architecture to address the growing consumer demand for data consumption. These attributes will allow operators to lower the operational costs, while enabling monetization of value added services and applications.

All in all, the success of 5G is contingent on being able to monetize the multitude of services and applications, as well as a transformation of the network to an open, disaggregated, and virtualized architecture.

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