AUSTIN, TEXAS — Sprint is becoming a member of the ORAN Alliance, formerly known as the xRAN Forum, and it is also joining the LF Networking Fund (LNF).
The two moves signal the operator’s commitment to the open source world. It’s making these inroads prior to its planned merger with T-Mobile. The two companies announced earlier last month that they will merge. The deal, if approved, will close in early 2019.
The ORAN Alliance membership is particularly interesting because Sprint is joining other powerful operator members including China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, AT&T, Verizon, SK Telecom, Telstra, and NTT DoCoMo.
In an interview with SDxCentral, Ron Marquardt, Sprint’s vice president of technology, said that the operator was just waiting for the xRAN Forum to complete its merger with the C-RAN Alliance and form the ORAN Alliance. “It will seamlessly merge, so we are looking at it now and decided not to wait to join,” Marquardt said. “We think it is worth following.”
The company also joined LNF, which was created by the Linux Foundation earlier this year by combining six initial projects — ONAP, OPNFV, OpenDaylight, FD.io, PNDA, and SNAS — into one project. Sprint joined the LNF because Marquardt said that although the company hasn’t finalized what combination of orchestration it will use, it realized that ONAP had a lot of support in the ecosystem.
ONAP now has the support of many major operators around the globe including Verizon and China Mobile. At least half the code from ONAP was derived from ECOMP, which was a home-grown project of AT&T.
All the major U.S. operators are exploring their virtualized RAN (vRAN) options.
Yesterday, Karri Kouppamaki, vice president of radio network technology development and strategy at T-Mobile, said that T-Mobile is exploring a vRAN architecture but added that the 5G network doesn’t have to be uniform and operators could have vRAN in some parts of the network and traditional RAN in other parts.
John Baker, senior vice president of Mavenir, said that operators are going to use a mix of both traditional RAN and vRAN because no one wants to rip out existing gear that is working. “Operators will live with that [traditional RAN] architecture for some time,” Baker said.
However, he added that at a certain point it will become easier for operators to upgrade to vRAN so they can more easily deploy features throughout their network. “We will see that shift, and you will see the core equipment come to life,” he added.
The amount of fiber an operator has deployed in its network may also play a role in how quickly operators deploy vRAN. According to Guang Yang, director of wireless operator strategies at Strategy Analytics, one big benefit of vRAN is that operators can flexibly allocate baseband resources as needed for traffic flow. For example, Yang said that China Mobile estimates that fronthaul demand will be up to 25 Gb/s when 5G is deployed.
“That means lots of fiber will be required for vRAN architecture,” he said. And if an operator doesn’t have a lot of fiber for backhaul, it could make vRAN difficult to deploy. On the other hand, in rural areas where traffic patterns are relatively stable, then vRAN would not be necessary, and traditional RAN will be able to meet the demand.
Image courtesy of wolterk / 123RF Stock Photo.