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ONF Starts New 5G SD-RAN Project

August 26, 2020

The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) has formed the SD-RAN project (Software Defined Radio Access Network) to pursue the creation of open source software platforms and multi-vendor solutions for mobile 4G and 5G RAN deployments. Initially, the project will focus on building an open source Near Real-Time RAN Intelligent Controller (nRT-RIC) compatible with the O-RAN architecture.  

The new SD-RAN project is backed by a consortium of leading operators and aligned technology companies and organizations that together are committed to creating a truly open RAN ecosystem.  Founding members include AT&T, China Mobile, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Intel, NTT, Radisys and Sercomm.

ONF has a track record of building open source platforms deployed in tier-1 operator networks worldwide. ONF’s cloud-native solutions all leverage disaggregation and whitebox hardware, utilizing SDN, NFV and the latest cloud technologies to build flexible, performant, highly available solutions where intelligence and control is moved from proprietary vendor specific devices up into the cloud.

To date, the ONF has addressed a wide array of operator use cases, including: data center, fixed access, backhaul, optical transport and the mobile core domains.  Mobile RAN is one of the most challenging use cases, and it has yet to benefit from disaggregation, multi-vendor interoperability and SDN-ization. Now that the industry is aligning behind the open architecture and interfaces specified by the O-RAN ALLIANCE, the SD-RAN community has formed to help bring the full benefits of ONF’s unique approach to the RAN domain.

µONOS-RIC

Central to the project is the development of an open source near-real time RIC called µONOS-RIC (pronounced “micro-ONOS-RIC”).  

µONOS is a microservices-based SDN controller created by the refactoring and enhancement of ONOS, the leading SDN controller for operators in production tier-1 networks worldwide.  µONOS-RIC is built on µONOS, and hence features a cloud-native design supporting active-active clustering for scalability, performance and high availability along with the real-time capabilities needed for intelligent RAN control.

µONOS-RIC is designed to control an array of multi-vendor open RAN equipment consistent with the O-RAN ALLIANCE architecture.  In particular, the O-RAN ALLIANCE E2 interface is used to interface between µONOS-RIC and vendor supplied RAN RU/DU/CU RAN components.

xApps running on top of the µONOS-RIC are responsible for functionality that traditionally has been implemented in vendor-proprietary implementations.  A primary goal of the SD-RAN project (and, not coincidentally, for the operators who founded the O-RAN consortium) is to enable an external intelligent controller to control the RAN so that operators have both visibility and control over their RAN networks, thus giving operators ownership and control over how spectrum is utilized and optimized along with the tools to deliver an optimal experience for users and applications.

Relationship to O-RAN ALLIANCE, O-RAN Software Community and TIP

The participating members of the SD-RAN project plan to implement, prototype and trial an advanced architecture that enables intelligent RIC xApps to control a broad spectrum of SON and RRM functionality that historically has been implemented as vendor-proprietary features on bespoke base station equipment and platforms.  SD-RAN’s focus and goals are complementary to various efforts across the industry, including work taking place within the O-RAN ALLIANCE, the O-RAN Software Community and the TIP OpenRAN Project Group.

SD-RAN will follow O-RAN specifications as they are developed and will also make use of components of existing open source to facilitate interoperability.  As the project pioneers new functionality, all extensions and learnings that come from building the system will be contributed back to O-RAN ALLIANCE, with the intent that these extensions can inform and advance the O-RAN specifications.

The SD-RAN work inside the ONF community will take place in parallel with work being contributed to the O-RAN Software Community.  The intent is for interoperable implementations to come out of both efforts, so that a mix of open source and vendor proprietary components can be demonstrated and ultimately deployed.

Furthermore, the TIP OpenRAN 5G NR Project Group recently launched the RAN Intelligence and Automation (RIA) subgroup to develop and deploy AI/ML based applications (as xApps) for a variety of RAN use cases including SON, RRM and Massive MIMO. TIP’s RIA subgroup will use ONF’s open source uONOS-RIC platform, leveraging open interfaces based on O-RAN specifications to assemble solutions for use case development, testing and deployment.

Timing and Availability

The SD-RAN project already has a working skeleton prototype of the µONOS-RIC controller above a RAN emulation platform through the E2 interface.  This implementation is demonstrating handover and load balancing at scale, supporting over 100 base stations and 100,000 user devices with less than 50ms handover latency (less than 10ms latency for 99% of all handovers). 

The SD-RAN community is advancing towards a field trial by early 2021, working with RAN vendors to integrate carrier-grade RU/DU/CU components while in parallel implementing xApps to demonstrate SON and RRM functionality.  Interested parties are encouraged to contact ONF for additional information.

Supporting Quotes

AT&T strongly supports the development of specifications and components that can help drive openness and innovation in the RAN ecosystem. The O-RAN ALLIANCE’s specifications are enabling the ecosystem, with a range of companies and organizations creating both open source and proprietary implementations that are bringing the open specifications to life. The ONF SD-RAN project, along with the O-RAN OSC, will expand the ecosystem with an nRT-RIC that can support xApps and help demonstrate their interoperability. This project will help accelerate the transition to an open RAN future.” 
Andre Fuetsch, President and Chief Technology Officer, AT&T Labs

China Mobile co-founded O-RAN in order to promote both the opening of the RAN ecosystem for multi-vendor solutions and the realization of RAN with native intelligence for performance and cost improvement.  An open nRT-RIC with support for open xApps that go beyond policy-based control and SON to also enhance Radio Resource Management (RRM) will make it possible for operators to optimize resource utilization and application performance.  We are excited to see the development of an open nRT-RIC and xApps in the SD-RAN project led by ONF, and expect this work to help advance the state-of-art for open and intelligent RAN.”
Dr. Chih-Lin I, Chief Scientist, Wireless Technologies, China Mobile 

China Unicom has been a long-term partner with ONF.  We continue to see the benefits of the ONF’s work and the impact it has on our industry.  The SD-RAN project is now applying the ONF’s proven strategy for disaggregating and creating open source implementations to the 5G RAN space in order to foster innovation and ecosystem transformation. We are excited by this work, and are committed to trialing a solution as it becomes available.”
Dr. Xiongyan Tang, Network Technology Research Institute, China Unicom

“Deutsche Telekom is a huge believer in applying disaggregation and open source principles for our next-generation networks.  DT has ONF’s mobile core platform (OMEC) in production and we are taking ONF’s broadband access (SEBA/VOLTHA) platform to production towards the end of 2020. This journey has shown us the tremendous value that is created when we can build solutions based on interoperable multi-vendor components intermixed with open source components.  ONF’s SD-RAN project is leveraging these same principles to help accelerate innovation in the RAN domain, and we are excited to be an active collaborator in this journey.”
Dr. Alex Jinsung Choi, SVP Strategy & Technology Innovation, Deutsche Telekom

“Connectivity is an integral part of Facebook’s focus to bring people closer together. We work closely with partners to develop programs and technologies that make connectivity more affordable and accessible. Through our collaboration with ONF on their SD-RAN project, we look forward to engaging with the community to improve connectivity experiences for many people around the world.”
Aaron Bernstein, Facebook’s Director of Connectivity Ecosystem Programs

Google is an advocate for SDN, disaggregation and open source, and we are excited to see these principles now being applied to the RAN domain. ONF’s SD-RAN project’s ambition to create an open source RIC can help invigorate innovation across the mobile domain.”
Ankur Jain, Distinguished Engineer, Google

“Intel is an active participant of the ONF’s SD-RAN project to advance the development of open RAN implementations on high volume servers.  ONF has been leading the industry with advanced open source implementations in the areas of disaggregated Mobile Core, e.g. the Open Mobile Evolved Core (OMEC), and we look forward to continuing to innovate by applying proven principles of disaggregation, open source and AI/ML to the next stepping stone in this journey – the RAN. SD-RAN will be optimized to leverage powerful performance, AI/ML, and security enhancements, which are essential for 5G and available in Intel® Xeon® Scalable Processors, network adapters and switching technologies, including Data-Plane Development Kit (DPDK) and Intel® Software Guard Extensions (Intel SGX).”
Pranav Mehta, Vice President of Systems and Software Research, Intel Labs

NTT sees great value in transforming the RAN domain in order to foster innovation and multi-vendor interoperability.  We are excited to be part of the SD-RAN ecosystem, and look forward to working with the community to develop open source components that can be intermixed with vendor proprietary elements using standard O-RAN interfaces.”
Dai Kashiwa, Evangelist, Director of NTT Communications

Radisys is excited to be a founding member of the SD-RAN project, and we are committed to integrating our RAN software implementation (CU & DU) with O-RAN interfaces to the µONOS-RIC controller and xApps being developed by the SD-RAN project community.  This effort has the potential to accelerate the adoption of O-RAN based RIC implementation and xApps, and we are committed to working with this community to advance the open RAN agenda.”
Arun Bhikshesvaran, CEO, Radisys

”As a leading manufacturer of small cell RAN equipment and an avid supporter of the open RAN movement, Sercomm is excited to collaborate with the SD-RAN community to open E2 interfaces and migrate some of our near-real-time functionalities from the RAN equipment into xApps running the μONOS-RIC controller. This is a nascent yet dynamic area full of potential, and we are committed to working with the SD-RAN ecosystem to build solutions ready for trials and deployment.”
Ben Lin, CTO and Co-Founder, Sercomm 

TIP’s OpenRAN solutions are an important element of our work to accelerate innovation across all elements of the network including Access, Transport, Core and Services.  We are excited about the collaboration between our RIA subgroup and ONF’s SD-RAN project to accelerate RAN disaggregation and adoption of open interfaces. Through this collaboration we will enable the OpenRAN ecosystem to leverage the strengths of data science and AI/ML technologies to set new industry benchmarks on performance, efficiency and total cost of ownership.”
Attilio Zani, Executive Director for Telecom Infra Project (TIP)

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