RAN Intelligent Controller development early focus of partnership

5G is often described as the first generation of cellular “born in the cloud,” which describes a dynamic, flexible network that’s increasingly automated through the use of NFV and SDN tools. This gives operators more flexibility while also lower equipment costs by swapping out proprietary hardware for commercial off-the-shelf hardware running largely open source software.

AT&T has been preaching this particular gospel for some time as evidenced by, among other things, its ECOMP (now ONAP) automation platform, which was developed internally then made open source via the Linux Foundation. Now the AT&T is working with vendor Nokia to hone its focus on opening up the radio access network.

In a look ahead at 2019 priorities, AT&T called out its work to replace vendor-specific routers with custom units. “In 2019, we plan to deploy thousands of these ‘white box’ routers on towers across our network,” the company said in a statement. “This year is about the power of open source in a 5G world.”

The initial focus of the partnerships is developing a RAN Intelligent Controller. “Nokia is a strong proponent of RAN network openness and has been active in numerous open source communities, contributing code and defining open interface specifications,” Nokia’s Mike Murphy, CTO for North America, said in a statement. “We are excited to be partnering with AT&T to co-create RIC software and share with the open-source community to foster further collaboration and innovation.”

Then there’s always the question of when you disaggregate the RAN into a custom kit of vendor-specific hardware, white box equipment and open source software, who’s an operator supposed to call when something breaks?

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