Ericsson has launched a new lab in Canada to interact and collaborate virtually with customers and other partners on 5G RAN technologies, with an initial focus on the Swedish vendor’s Cloud RAN portfolio.
Located in Ottawa, Ericsson’s Open Lab site includes 100-megahertz of indoor midband spectrum and 60-megahertz of indoor/outdoor midband for testing and co-creation activities.
During a media and investor briefing, Eric Parsons, head of Product Development Unit for Cloud RAN at Ericsson, said that cloud RAN is the current focus, but the lab will serve other parts of Ericsson’s portfolio and openness ambitions moving forward.
“We believe virtualization and automation will play a key role,” Parsons said.
One of the main goals of the lab is rapid and continuous feedback for customers. Ericsson wants to showcase technical milestones to customers and partners on a regular basis and not just at large industry events, Parsons said. (In 2020 and 2021 the Covid-19 pandemic caused Ericsson to back out of MWC Barcelona, what is usually the mobile industry’s biggest show.)
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The lab facilitates virtual meetings and enables Ericsson to show off prototypes for early feedback from customers.
The other primary goal is ecosystem collaboration with access to beta configurations for shorter lead times to try out new use cases, with virtual demos and tests. Ericsson aims to bring new deployment and use-case scenarios to fruition alongside customers.
Initial vendor partners participating include Intel, Red Hat, Nvidia, and Wind River. Operator partners that have been named so far are KDDI, Ooredoo, Orange, Softbank, and Turkcell.
Making a move
As operators around the globe explore virtualization and open radio access network (RAN) architectures, the leading equipment suppliers have taken different approaches to openness.
Ericsson introduced Cloud RAN in October and Parsons said the vendor is very much focused on network automation and RAN intelligence, pushing forward to support an O-RAN set of interfaces.
Industry analyst Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics, called Ericsson’s new Open Lab a smart move, as the industry’s move toward virtualization and openness pushes forward.
There’s a realization “that the train that turns the network into software is moving and there’s no stopping it,” he said. “If you stand in the way of progress it’s not ending very well for you.”
With the Open Lab, Ericsson can bring both partners and operators in to collaborate.
“Here they have a lab where they can work together with different companies in the ecosphere and show how relevant Ericsson is here,” Entner said. “This will position somebody like Ericsson well against companies like Huawei.”
Unlike Ericsson or Finnish competitor Nokia, Huawei hasn’t showed up at the open RAN station. While Ericsson doesn’t face competition much competition from the Chinese in vendor in the U.S. or Canada, it does in other parts of the world.
“Huawei as now the incumbent provider has the most to lose by this switch because software defined networking and open RAN is like the weapon of the insurgent,” Entner said. And while Ericsson is viewed as a traditional vendor and the incumbent in many regions, in some parts of the world Ericsson is definitely the challenger, he added.
Nokia has taken a stronger stance on open RAN, and Entner said the Finnish vendor needs to do more on that front than Ericsson because of its current position (which he categorized as “dire straits”) – but both need to take the opportunity to turn the shifts in network architecture into an advantage.
He likened the current environment to the timing of a switch from horse carriages to automobiles.
“Are we investing into better horse carriages or better cars?” Entner posited. “With the benefit of hindsight, the answer is logical.”
One place he said Ericsson needs to catch up is with companies like those included in Rakuten Mobile’s RCP (Rakuten Communications Platform), but he thinks the Open Lab shows progress in that direction.
Expanded scope over time
Ericsson expects the scope of its Open Lab to grow over time, as customer input and contributions increase.
Shorter-term, Ericsson’s cloud RAN customers will have early access to development track configurations and related test cases at the Open Lab.
“As we move forward this will develop into delivering development insights and new ways of working between Ericsson and our customers,” Parsons said during the presentation.
That could include things like performance comparisons or dimensioning parameters based on customer-specific traffic models.
Early focus will be testing and demos for Ericsson’s virtualized Distributed Unit (vDU) for low and mid band, with virtualized Central Unit (vCU) starting in Q3. Towards the end of the year in the fourth quarter and beyond, network automation and associated features come into play.
Entner said that even with Open RAN, parts of the network like vRU, vDU, or vCU are propriety, so it’s not a huge jump for a vendor like Ericsson to open up the interfaces between to put the network pieces together.
“This just shows that [Ericsson] is on that path,” he said.