Originally posted on VMware Blogs by Carlos Estepa

Almost a year has passed since VMware first revealed its plans for the RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) platform, a critical component of the O-RAN Alliance architecture. The RIC brings machine learning and programmability to the RAN, enabling third-party application developers to access network data, process it, and adjust RAN behavior to enhance the user experience and maximize network efficiency. This RAN programmability is one of the most significant reasons communication service providers (CSPs) are considering open RAN as the next stage in their RAN modernization journey.

In May of this year, the general availability of VMware RIC was announced, followed by the RIC SDK partner program launch a few weeks later. Since then, the VMware partner ecosystem has steadily expanded and enabled an open, programmable, multi-vendor RAN.

Building a robust application ecosystem is a key driver for the business case behind the RIC. VMware is developing its own apps to deliver value through the RIC while expanding the partner ecosystem. In addition to building the RIC, creating a family of applications, and fostering a flourishing ecosystem, VMware is taking it a step further. To demonstrate our commitment to open approaches and help accelerate the RAN modernization, VMware is collaborating with a testing and performance validation leader to drive test standardization for RIC, xApps, and rApps.

Helping CSPs reach their sustainability goals

Minimizing negative environmental impacts and promoting long-term sustainability is a goal shared by VMware and CSPs everywhere. The exponential growth of network traffic has compelled CSPs to expand network capacity by deploying additional cell sites along with the use of new radio spectrum, contributing to the increase of overall energy consumption, especially in heavily congested areas.

Fortunately, RAN programmability decreases cell site energy usage. VMware has built an energy savings rApp which, when used in conjunction with VMware RIC, helps CSPs lower power consumption while maintaining optimal RAN performance. The energy savings rApp from VMware detects cell traffic utilization and dynamically turns down unused cell capacity to reduce energy consumption without compromising network performance.

Understanding the impact on energy usage is crucial for OpEx reduction and sustainability since the RAN, which comprises CUs, DUs, RUs, power amplifiers, and other components, contributes to approximately 50% of the overall energy consumption in mobile networks. According to a report from GSMA, electricity costs account for 20 to 40% of OpEx for the cell sites, with RAN-related equipment and power amplifiers using the majority of the energy. By using VMware RIC in combination with the energy savings rApp from VMware, CSPs can reduce energy usage in a range from 5 to 15%.

There is a need for new testing methodologies for the RIC and xApp/rApp

New challenges emerge with the introduction of each new technology or change in the way RAN networks are deployed. This is the case for Open RAN and the new RIC platform, as the RAN moves from a closed environment to an open architecture with standardized interfaces. Moving away from the previous monolithic RAN to the new open architecture will shift the burden of testing and integrating various RAN components to CSPs.

With all the benefits that Open RAN brings, such as the ability for CSPs to mix and match various RAN elements like CU, DU, and RU from different vendors, comes the responsibility for ensuring that all pieces of the network fit together and perform as expected, which now falls on the CSPs rather than the vendor. Operating the RAN becomes more complex when the RIC, xApps, and rApps are part of the equation.

This is where planned collaboration between VMware and Viavi comes into play, exploring the potential of demonstrating compliance with RIC-related requirements to assist CSPs in both validating the solution in the lab and scaling the solution to production. Viavi has one of the most comprehensive portfolios of open RAN test solutions in the industry and plays a leading role in defining test processes in the O-RAN Alliance and Telecom Infra Project (TIP). Through the planned collaboration, VMware aims to attain CSP community consensus on test scenarios, performance metrics, and performance reporting through standardization bodies.

Why will this be important for CSPs? – Based on inputs gathered by the xApps and rApps, VMware RIC will enforce policies down to the RAN elements to change the behavior of the network. Doing it wrong could undermine performance and quality.

How do we avoid that? – Making sure the desired results are achieved by carefully validating VMware RICs and apps’ performance both alone and in conjunction with other xApps and rApps. Through a combination of VMware’s understanding of its RIC and how it interacts with xApps and rApps and Viavi’s leadership in testing technologies, CSPs can adopt open RAN with full confidence.

Viavi’s testing solutions enable CSPs to simulate real-world traffic and a full end-to-end network, from the RAN to the core, in the lab. This allows CSPs to test the RIC, xApps, and rApps under realistic RAN conditions to verify that the new policies the RIC enforces will indeed improve network programmability and performance.

Having a testbed as a service for testing and standardized test methods will help CSPs reduce the cost and time it takes to validate the open RAN solutions in their lab, accelerating the adoption of the open RAN in a production environment.

CSPs’ traffic and network management capabilities will be bolstered by using Net AI’s intelligent software

One of the new members of our RIC SDK partner program is Net AI; they have developed Microscope, powerful AI-based software module that provides CSPs with real-time decomposition and forecasting of cell traffic based on aggregate and easy to collect metadata. As members of our RIC SDK partner program, Net AI have access to RIC Software Development Kits (SDKs), open APIs, and other resources that will help them to accelerate the process of porting their Microscope software to xApps or rApps that will run on VMware RIC.

What is in it for CSPs? – As CSPs expand their networks and strive to improve the end-user quality of experience, VMware RIC and Net AI software will deliver insights and visibility to help them make more informed decisions.

Net AI’s traffic decomposition and forecasting engines process cell traffic metadata gathered from the RAN and provide the insights for decision-making. Based on those insights, VMware RIC can enforce policies to, for example, assure that a service’s data traffic will be handled by a certain core network function.

How will CSPs benefit? – By having access to real-time knowledge of what is happening in the network on a service-by-service level, without relying on deep packet inspection (DPI) that is expensive and can slow down user traffic, and leveraging the programmability and intelligence that VMware RIC and Net AI software can provide, CSPs will be able to auto-scale the deployment of network functions in the network. In turn, this leads to a significant reduction in the CSPs’ CAPEX and OPEX expenditures over time.

“As network operators begin to disaggregate their Radio Access Networks (RANs) and different network functions are being virtualized, the real-time and predictive traffic insights that Net AI’s software provides are of critical importance to the management of compute resources needed to power those network functions. VMware RIC brings automation capabilities to the management and control of resources, enabling customers that Net AI serve with VMware to optimize and effectively monetize their RAN infrastructure.”

Paul Patras, CEO of Net AI

VMware’s CSPs customers are making significant progress in building the RAN using an open architecture, and VMware continues to work on establishing a thriving ecosystem of partners that CSPs can leverage to speed up the adoption of Open RAN. App developers will be able to speed up the process of creating their apps and deliver innovation to the RAN more quickly, thanks to VMware RIC and the VMware RIC SDKs. Making it possible for CSPs to launch new services and monetize the RAN.

Learn more about our ecosystem on our website and reach out to discuss how we can support your transformation.

Jens Koegler

Jens Koegler is VMware's Healthcare Industry Director in EMEA. He is helping our healthcare customers develop and run modern applications to drive innovation and ensure better patient care through a digital foundation that includes data center, hybrid cloud, mobile, networking and security technologies. VMware plays a strategic role in the healthcare industry. Its leading innovations in enterprise software help ensure consistent patient care and reduce IT access time for healthcare professionals so they can spend more time with their patients. Jens plays a key role in helping customers understand how new applications, devices, the latest IT technologies and digital transformation are driving innovation in healthcare.