Orange sees a role for Open RAN vendors to provide more “plug and play” indoor coverage through 2021 and 2022.
Arnaud Vamparys, Senior Vice President, Seamless Wireless Access, at Group level at Orange, said that the operator could see Open RAN small cells vendors providing solutions for indoor coverage to businesses.
“Traditionally most of our deployments are in Active DAS but there are more and more small cell solutions from different companies arriving on the market,” he said.
He added that Open RAN could also play a part in the macro network, although that is more likely to come from 2023, and still requires work. Vamparys said a further advantage of O-RAN is the ability it give to construct more AI-based control of the radio via its near real time RIC element.
“We already have a C-SON capability in closed loop operations in most of our 28 countries, and we are starting to introduce AI modules there to be able to forecast traffic, predictive experience and so on. But if you imagine beam forming will be the key differentiation on 5G – we need to have things directing the equipment. And this is where the O-RAN RIC will play a key role, because part of your SON modules you can put on the edge with a more near real time capacity, to improve slice management, or each flow of your video on the network.”
Cloud core and 5G SA
The operator is also still working on the cloud native platform that could support vRAN and core network functions, he added.
“For the core you have different elements, EPC evolution by itself, the signalling part and the database part. For access you have CU-DU. We would like to move to a better cloud native infrastructure for these two parts. What is important there is we want to bring innovation to our customers, with the right QoE and interoperability between what is on site and remotely. In the short term we change indoor coverage to have more plug and play deployments. This was not the case in 2/3G, and from 4G and even better in 5G we have more flexible equipment that you can put on an existing LAN and really link with your mobile network.”
Vamparys said that a cloud-native core platform would also enable the operator to engage with different companies providing functions and software for the 5G core.
“We have really technological evolution going to Cloud Native infrastructure, starting with the core and moving to access in fixed and mobile. For us it is quite good, gives some flexibility, the right security level, so we are working on that and it enables us to consider other companies, different tests with different companies right now.”
The cloud native testing comes as Orange is also evaluating the move from its EPC and 5G SA core to 5G SA and a 5G Core.
Vamparys said the operator is assessing how to make the move from NSA to SA, and from the EPC to the 5G Core, but also how to operate the 5G Core once it is functional. He said it might be the case that the operator provides dedicated core functions for business and industry customers.
“We have two angles. We are testing right now NSA to SA migration, so there is no regression in QoS in moving from Option3x to Option 2. That means we have to have different technical building blocks like Carrier Aggregation, DSS on some existing 4G bands, and have the right interoperability.
“And at the same time SA gives different possibilities. You can have a dedicated core for your new SA customers, you can have what we call a combo – a mixed core – or you can dedicate a core for segments, like B2B. We have one, for example, live at the Port of Antwerp. We used a full 5G SA test network there and it enabled us to see different use cases and assess what the gain is for end customers. That’s important too as well as the different technical operations.”
The combination of an easier, O-RAN based indoor deployment option with cloud core capabilities will be important in France as the operator has a deadline of 2023 for to be able to offer 5G SA operations. That’s because of license conditions that mean it must offer differentiated, guaranteed QoS services to enterprise customers. (It must also make sure that 25% of its sites in 50MHz of spectrum it has been awarded provide coverage to business and industrial areas, and not just to dense urban or residential sites.)
The French model for industrial and business 5G private networks is different to Germany, for example, where 100MHz of spectrum was reserved on a local basis for companies to operate their own private networks. In France, the operators kept hold of all the spectrum, but they are obligated to provide private services to small and large customers.
Vamparys thinks that is a good thing.
“In the German model frequency is directly added to B2B customers, and it is more very large companies that are asking for that because it is quite expensive to operate a private network. The French model is to say to the four operators that we have to serve everyone via a minimum number of sites in different areas where there are businesses – so we can leverage the public network deployment and then offer a private extension, a VPN or LAN deployment inside buildings, indoor coverage and so on.
“In 2019 we launched a number of co-innovations with small and large companies – factories, railway station, stadium, concert hall and so on. So we are working there to understand the move from 4G to 5G NSA, then to 5G SA, and then to be able to launch with the public network so that we can make a private extension affordable for smaller customers.”
Orange launched 5G services in Romania last year, followed up on 1 July with a launch in Poland, pressed go in Spain on 7 September Spain and is now ready to launch in France.
Orange France has 90MHz of midband spectrum in France, following a recently concluded auction, and it is ready to launch in many areas, with pre-commercial rollout ongoing. Vamparys said that the operator was happy with its spectrum position, which gives it the most midband spectrum in France. That spectrum position, combined with the MIMO capabilities of the new kit from its 5G vendors Nokia and Ericsson will give 5G a real quality of experience advantage over 5G, he said. DSS (Dynamic Shared Spectrum) is useful as an addition or if you don’t have dedicated 5G spectrum, he said, as an intermediate step.
But Vamparys is not willing to share yet the extent of 5G coverage it will have at launch, nor state how many sites Orange will be turning on.
There’s no deploy and launch manual for Orange across its operating units, because each country has different spectrum positions, and vendor relationships. In Poland the operator has deployed with DSS because the midband spectrum auction has been delayed. Commercial live service in midband spectrum in Poland is more likely in 2021, Vamparys said.