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Etteplan prepared for O-RAN breakthrough

O-RAN transforms the mobile network markets rapidly. Leading telco operators are its greatest drivers, as they will benefit from a reduced dependency from equipment vendors. In practice, O-RAN’s implementation will require developing of radio variants, and Etteplan’s telecom development teams are ready to cater for the huge demand.

While software defined networks together with functions virtualization has become a de facto standard in the telecom industry, another revolution separating hardware from software is underway. O-RAN, or Open RAN, is a new open platform solution for mobile networks and base stations. The solution’s standards are specified by the O-RAN Alliance where all major equipment vendors are members as well as world’s leading telco operators.

Most important in O-RAN is how it enables operators a welcome possibility to buy equipment from many different vendors.

“The needs of telco operators are the greatest drivers of O-RAN. They want to reduce their dependency from single vendors, which makes O-RAN very attractive to them. Also, it gives a chance to limit the financial burden caused by building 5G customer networks,” tells Etteplan’s Telecom Sales Director Markus Piippola from Etteplan’s large mobile network team based in Oulu, Finland.

O-RAN radio units create massive demand to radio variant development and testing

In O-RAN, the interoperability of a mix and match of equipment is enabled by application interfaces and services that are specified in detail by the O-RAN Alliance. For operators, the change also brings new challenges. While they may save money in equipment costs, they need to do much more to integrate, test and later update different components.

“Only the biggest operators have the facilities and resources to do everything that the implementation of O-RAN requires. Even they depend on partners. Therefore, O-RAN creates a rapidly expanding new market and lots of new business opportunities. At Etteplan, we are ready to deliver O-RAN radio variant development in particular,” Piippola tells.

In the O-RAN architecture, the mobile network consists of the Radio Unit (O-RU), Distribution Unit (O-DU) and Centralized Unit (O-CU). The O-DU equals the baseband in traditional architecture. The O-CU is typically a cloud-based solution.

While two of the other units can be virtualized and cloudified, radio units are tightly connected with hardware. Consequently, the radio units and their radio variants are the most important single reason why O-RAN causes a great market demand. Every operator has their own dedicated radio frequency bands in every country. Every country also has performance specific requirements.

“For every frequency, every piece of O-RAN equipment for base stations must be developed and tested separately. On top of this, the biggest brand owners of base station equipment need to develop more than a hundred different radio variants every year,” Piippola says.

Equipment manufacturers must also buy a lot more development services

In addition, contract manufacturers of mobile network equipment must buy a lot more development services. The leading contract manufacturers in the world includes famous companies such as Foxconn, Flex and Sanmina. In addition, there are dozens of base station equipment manufacturers globally.

“Earlier, all equipment software was proprietary and provided by the big brand owners such as Nokia and Ericsson. Now, O-RAN reduces the brand owners’ interest and needs to develop software for radio variants. Someone else needs to do the coding to match software with the components”, Markus Piippola says.

To illustrate the volume, it is quite typical that a brand owner sends a tender for 10 000 units for a certain frequency. When their customer, that is, an operator needs equipment for all its frequencies, it requires changing certain key components, which are software-controlled. Such components include filters and SoC boards (System on Chip).

“Contract manufacturers would like to tell brand owners that they can make the radio variants and the necessary customizations. However, they have very limited R&D capacities to develop software. Therefore, development service providers capable of taking overall responsibility to develop radio variants are in an excellent position,” Piippola estimates.

Etteplan provides turnkey services and service teams for radio variant development

Etteplan has decades of experience of mobile networks development together with the leading mobile network brands. The company has worked with the technology for more than 20 years developing embedded software both for the radio units and baseband part of base stations. Over a hundred product development engineers have participated in customer projects.

“We provide our customers development projects both in the form of service teams and of turnkey projects. Typically, contract manufacturers need turnkey projects whereas brand owners ask for service teams. We believe that O-RAN will rise the turnkey project demand from manufacturers sharply in the near future”, Piippola says.

Etteplan’s main centers of excellence in mobile development are located in Oulu, Finland and Wroclaw, Poland. Etteplan’s teams are ready to turn up the sleeves for O-RAN customer cases.

Piippola estimates that the annual business value around O-RAN will quickly exceed ten million euros.

“For us, O-RAN is a new technology and business opportunity where we intend to be present from the very beginning. We have invested in the technology, now having both the skilled resources, and the experience to start with O-RU customer projects right away,” Markus Piippola says.

Etteplan has extensive experience and expertise in mobile networks development. Contact us when you need development services.