Microsoft outlines open RAN vision

Microsoft outlines open RAN vision

07 MAY 2021

In comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Microsoft shared its vision of open RAN as one element of a cloud-based network architecture, and gave details about its work with mobile network operators.

The comments came in response to a Notice of Inquiry issued by the FCC on the topic of open RAN. Microsoft was one of several respondents from outside the traditional telco space (others included Intel, Arm, IBM, Google, and HPE).

Microsoft’s comments may be of special interest to some because the software giant has made a number of recent acquisitions in the wireless/IoT space. During the second quarter of 2020, Microsoft announced plans to purchase Affirmed Networks, Metaswitch, and CyberX.

Microsoft’s string of acquisitions led to questions about the company’s goals in the wireless industry, given its history of work in the so-called “TV white spaces“. But the company told the FCC it has no plans to compete with mobile network operators.

“Microsoft is committed to working with, not disintermediating, operators”, the company wrote in its filing.

All about the cloud
Microsoft doesn’t currently have a direct play in open RAN, but the company does of course own Azure, one of the biggest public cloud providers. The comments Microsoft filed with the FCC reflect its thesis that open RAN is critical to network cloudification, and the cloud is key to open RAN.

Microsoft seems to see open RAN and network cloudification as two separate trajectories which must eventually converge. The company states that open RAN will be more fully paired with cloud capabilities during the latter stages of its development, and that as operators move their entire networks to the cloud, open RAN will be important towards the end of that journey.

“To reach its full potential, open RAN must be paired with cloud capabilities. This will occur in stages, with greater use of the cloud in later stages” the company stated in its comments.

Likewise, the telco journey to the cloud will rely on open RAN at its later stages as well, Microsoft said. The company stated that operators move to the cloud in three distinct stages. The first stage involves virtualised software in the network core, coupled with public cloud partnerships at the edge or customer premise. Microsoft said it is actively supporting operators in this stage, supporting more than 100 commercial mobile operators with virtualised packet core implementations and more than 400 with virtualised voice service infrastructure.

Microsoft said the second stage of cloud migration involves moving select network functions to the cloud, and the third stage begins when operators start to adopt “sophisticated access technologies like open RAN and handle real time traffic”.

In terms of specific recommendations for the FCC, Microsoft encouraged the Commissioners to provide incentives for rural carriers to improve security, and encourage the industry to come up with the equivalent of OnGo certification.

“An industry certification program for open RAN can be a significant milestone, where every component provider gets certified”, the company wrote.

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Martha DeGrasse

Freelance tech journalist Martha DeGrasse (@mardegrasse) is delighted to be contributing to Mobile World Live. Martha has written for a number of telecom and wireless publications, and was a writer, editor and video producer at RCR Wireless News for almost...

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