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Ericsson sidles closer to OpenRAN

The new Ericsson Intelligent Automation Platform claims to deliver service management and orchestration functionalities in line with Open RAN principles.

Ericsson has understandably been dancing around the issue of OpenRAN for some time. On its surface, the OpenRAN paradigm seems to have been created explicitly to give big telecoms kit vendors like Ericsson less of a role in the radio access network by decoupling its many component parts, thus giving operators an alternative to the traditional ‘closed’ systems.

The thing is, if your customers say they want something you’d be pretty stupid not to at least be seen to be trying to offer it to them, so simply ignoring OpenRAN has never been a viable option. Earlier this year Ericsson announced a new lab dedicated to openness, which we characterised as tiptoeing towards OpenRAN and now this.

“We embrace the principle of openness and the evolution to open network architectures,” said Jan Karlsson, Head of Business Area Digital Services at Ericsson. “Building upon our Cloud RAN offering, we are taking another major step towards building the network for the digital future with the launch of Ericsson Intelligent Automation Platform, which fundamentally enables smarter mobile networks.

“We look forward to providing our customers with an open platform that enables operational efficiency, enhances customer experience and drives service innovation. I am happy to hear the reactions from our customers already being positive towards our new product and we look forward to future development and innovation.”

While Karlsson couldn’t quite bring himself to mention OpenRAN itself in his canned quote, the rest of the press release was less bashful. ‘The cloud-native solution will work across new and existing 4G and 5G radio access networks (RAN) and will support diverse vendors and RAN technologies, including purpose-built and Open RAN,’ it said.

‘This will create greater choice for communications service providers (CSPs) as they evolve their networks. Ericsson’s investment in this platform is reflective of the company’s contributions to industry development of Open RAN technologies.’

More generally this is a new bit of OSS with an emphasis on automation. It includes something called a RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) which is a trendy topic in the RAN world these days. At this stage it seems the key OpenRAN angle is the reassurance to customers that the new platform will play nice with OpenRAN if they ever decide to go in that direction. But we’re the first to admit our technical limitations here at Telecoms.com, so here are a couple of expert views on the launch.

“I’m pleased to see that Ericsson is launching the Intelligent Automation Platform for automating networks, based on the O-RAN Alliance Service Management and Orchestration (SMO) concept,” said Neil McRae, BT Group Chief Architect. “Ericsson’s vision to extend that SMO concept to support both OpenRAN and existing 4G and 5G networks, using a single operational pane-of-glass is an innovative approach.”

Sue Rudd, Director Networks and Service Platforms, Strategy Analytics, says: “Ericsson Intelligent Automation Platform brings scalability, performance and operations simplicity to the increasingly complex environment of mobile networks, including purpose-built and Open RAN,” said Sue Rudd, Analyst at Strategy Analytics.

“Ericsson’s long-demonstrated expertise in radio networking and end-to-end network slicing, in parallel with its active participation in the O-RAN Alliance and leadership in ONAP network automation, have enabled it to create this powerful platform to assist customers to maximize their ROI through smart delivery of high-quality services to their end-customers.”

McRae recently hosted a media gathering explicitly to discuss BT’s view on OpenRAN, which you can read about on Light Reading here and hear discussed on the Telecoms.com podcast here. BT has also taken a cautious approach to OpenRAN, so seems an ideal operator partner for Ericsson in that respect. As long as Ericsson does it’s best to accommodate its customers’ OpenRAN ambitions, it should be able to keep them happy while it decides how fully to embrace the technology itself.

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