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VMware Paves the Way for Radio Access Network (RAN) Modernization

Service providers are transforming their RAN to architectures that are open and programmable. This provides an opportunity for developers to create innovative apps and services to be deployed across the RAN. A proponent of this wave of RAN innovation, VMware announced several updates to its RAN portfolio of products and introduced VMware RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC). VMware RIC, along with VMware Telco Cloud Platform RAN, will help service providers smoothly transition to Open RAN.

"When it comes to Open RAN, the genie is out of the bottle. The potential benefits of increasing innovation while reducing operational expense are compelling. As such, VMware is pushing to accelerate the transformation of the RAN along with Open RAN principles," said Sanjay Uppal, senior vice president and general manager, Service Provider and Edge, VMware. "VMware is paving the way for service providers to modernize the RAN so it is programmable and intelligent, built with best-of-breed solutions from a vibrant partner ecosystem."

Introducing VMware RIC

The RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) is a new function introduced by the O-RAN Alliance that enables service providers to deploy cloud-native control and management apps in the RAN. VMware is today introducing VMware RIC, a platform that abstracts the underlying RAN infrastructure and provides developer APIs for xApps and rApps to program the RAN.

VMware RIC platform will consist of two RICs that can run independent of each other, or together:

  • VMware Centralized RIC, an implementation of the non-real-time RAN Intelligent Controller (non-RT RIC) in the O-RAN Alliance reference architecture. It will manage and host rApps that have control functions with response timing greater than one second.
  • VMware Distributed RIC, an implementation of the near-real-time RAN Intelligent Controller (near-RT RIC) in the O-RAN Alliance reference architecture. It will manage and host xApps that have control functions with response timing less than one second, typically on the order of 10's of milliseconds.

VMware RIC will provide service providers with:

  • Choice and flexibility to transform the RAN into an open, intelligent RAN while minimizing business disruption.
  • An agile RAN architecture so they can quickly respond to customer needs, changes in traffic pattern, as well as any unforeseen events that require a sudden shift.
  • Programmability and intelligence to enable innovations introduced by a broad ecosystem.
  • Enhanced security to better safeguard a larger attack surface inherent to the distributed nature of RAN sites and the devices connected to them.

VMware has engineered its RIC to seamlessly integrate with traditional RAN equipment as well as virtualized RAN network functions independent of them being O-RAN compliant. A large ecosystem of xApps and rApps enables service providers to maximize the benefits of an Open RAN to address their unique requirements and priorities.

To drive the growth of this ecosystem, VMware plans to offer a RAN application developer program to help partners jump-start and accelerate development of xApps and rApps with VMware RIC SDKs, access to VMware RIC development licenses, developer support, testing environment, and interoperability certification. The planned program will be centered around the developer experience, from the initial design of the xApp/rApp all the way to the deployment.

Examples of partners who are already working with VMware to integrate their xApps and/or rApps as microservices on VMware RIC through SDKs, include:

  • Cohere Technologies' Spectrum Multiplier xApp improves spectral efficiency for service providers by as much as 2x with the use of its unique Delay-Doppler channel representation.
  • Polte's location xApp pioneers more secure, accurate and global location intelligence for service providers and their customers.
  • AirHop xApps and rApps support a broad spectrum of use cases, including RAN configuration and operation optimization, interference management, capacity and coverage optimization, and mobility optimization.
  • Cellwize RAN intelligence technology and rApps enable backward compatibility alongside O-RAN future proof management and orchestration of multi-vendor networks.

Intel is a strategic partner as VMware works with service providers to virtualize the RAN. VMware RIC is based on Intel FlexRAN reference architecture, enabling a flexible and programmable platform for software-defined RANs.

"Intel FlexRAN software allows operators transitioning to a cloud-native architecture to run their RAN and AI workloads on the same standard hardware platform as other workloads, from core to edge to access," said Cristina Rodriguez, vice president of Intel's Network Edge Group and general manager, Wireless Access Network Division. "VMware RIC, powered with Intel AI and Machine Learning capabilities, supports a wide variety of xApps and rApps that will help operators optimize their network performance, deliver new functions and features, and offer new value-added services."

VMware RIC SDKs are expected to be generally available in VMware's Q4 FY22. VMware RIC is expected to be initially available in VMware's Q1 FY23.

New VMware Telco Cloud Platform RAN Capabilities

VMware RIC, combined with VMware Telco Cloud Platform RAN, paves a clear and simple path toward RAN transformation. Service providers can virtualize RAN functions on a horizontal platform specifically optimized for RAN. The same platform, with VMware RIC, can be utilized for Open RAN, providing service providers flexibility and a smooth evolution toward the future without disrupting their business operations and overhauling network design.

Advancements to VMware Telco Cloud Platform RAN aim to strike a balance between network performance and operational flexibility. The platform's enhanced performance meets strict latency requirements to support even the most demanding RAN workloads, while its hypervisor functions as the unheralded workhorse to provide operational flexibility.

New VMware Telco Cloud Platform RAN features will provide service providers with:

  • Superior performance: VMware ESXi delivers real-time performance for RAN workloads.
  • Cost reduction: VMware Tanzu for Telco combined with VMware ESXi allows service providers to mix and match various cloud-native RAN workloads and custom 5G applications on the same physical appliance, ideal for open and disaggregated RAN where space is limited at the cell site and the number of sites keeps growing.
  • Operational consistency: VMware Telco Cloud Platform RAN provides a common platform and end-to-end automation and orchestration across 5G networks to prevent creating siloed islands of network functions.

O-RAN Service Management and Orchestration (SMO)

Service providers are adopting a multi-vendor service and orchestration management (SMO) framework as defined by the O-RAN Alliance. This SMO framework includes the non-real-time RIC, O-Cloud management, and FCAPS (fault, configuration, accounting, performance and security) management. VMware's RAN portfolio is uniquely positioned to address all these functions:

  • VMware Centralized RIC with associated SDK and rApps.
  • VMware Telco Cloud Automation for O-Cloud management.
  • VMware Telco Cloud Operations for FCAPS spanning RAN infrastructure, transport and mobile core.

While the above components will integrate seamlessly for a simplified experience, customers may choose to deploy any component independently.

VMware Partners with Aspire to Streamline RAN Testing and Validation

Aspire Technology is a well-established leader within the Open RAN ecosystem, not only with its Open RAN Lab services, but also through a wide range of projects with global service providers, technology partners, systems integrators and Open RAN communities. Leveraging Aspire's deep heritage in networks, the Aspire Open RAN Lab enables technology partners, like VMware, and service providers to fast-track development, integration, test and deployment of Open RAN-based networks.

VMware and Aspire are announcing today they have entered into a strategic partnership to accelerate and simplify testing and integration of Telco Cloud Platform RAN as part of a service provider's end-to-end network.

Bill Walsh, CEO of Aspire Technology, stated, "As an independent supplier, we believe that Open RAN is a transformational move in network disaggregation, thus we are excited to partner with VMware in helping service providers smoothly transition to Open RAN."

Published Tuesday, October 26, 2021 1:03 PM by David Marshall
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