Orange puts emphasis on Europe, security, automation with O-RAN lab launch

Orange opened a new O-RAN Integration Centre in Paris. It wants to foster European companies in the O-RAN ecosystem. Also placing emphasis on security and automation.

Orange wants to foster European and French companies into the Open RAN ecosystem, as it increases its work to verify integration of O-RAN solutions.

The operator has just opened Europe’s fourth O-RAN Integration Centre (ORANIC) at its Orange Gardens innovation facility in Paris, with the involvement of 20 partners, many but not all of whom are European.

Michael Trabbia, CTIO, Orange Group, emphasised that the European nature of this ORANIC is strategically important to Orange, and to its four co-signatories of January 2021’s operator MoU on O-RAN.

By 2025 Orange wants any new RAN equipment it deploys to be O-RAN compatible, even if that does not necessarily mean it will be deploying multi-vendor O-RAN networks from that date.

And Trabbia said that it is important that European operators are not caught out by squabbles between US and China technology blocks. One small example of how these battles can disrupt development is the slight pause that Nokia and Ericsson called earlier this year to their contributions to the O-RAN Aliance to make sure they would not be subject to any sanctions due to the presence of companies in the Alliance that had been placed on the US trade entity list. Although that situation was quickly sorted out, it serves as notice that some European operators do not want to be reliant on either technology block. Nor do they want to see any divergence or fragmentation of standards within 5G.

Trabbia said, “In the broader context of the China-US battle, there is in Europe a need to remain at the forefront of competition and of the revolution of the networks. And that’s why we insist to have strong European players to be a part of this ecosystem and to support us in the years to come.”

Orange launched its Paris ORANIC with the presence of the in-country head of Nokia, Pierre Gaël Chantereau, who said that Nokia was especially keen in this trial to develop its near real time RIC, and the integration of third party RAN applications on the platform.

At present, the lab contains CU and DU software from Mavenir, integrated with RUs from MTI. Dell is the hardware platform supplier. This is the alignment that Orange has previously announced for its pilot network in Brittany.

Orange ORAN launch

Orange’s lab head holds the Benetel O-RAN RU. The AW2S RU sits on the table.

But the vendor was keen to show that it is also working with RUs from French company AW2S and from Benetel. Samsung is also lined up to test its vRAN software within the test centre. Nokia is bringing its RIC software, although it has not deployed in the lab space just yet.

Trabbia said, “The idea of the lab is to expand the range of partners that we work with, to test new equipment and new providers.”

“Now the objective is to make this [O-RAN] an industrial reality, as always between standards and implementation there is work to be done.”

As before, Orange said that it will begin rollouts of O-RAN targeting indoor and also rural use cases with 4T/4R antennas. It does not judge that the higher order MIMO capabilities necessary for urban deployments are yet supported by O-RAN vendors.

“What will matter is the end-to-end performance, so we need to ensure that the integration that we will require to make sure that this will be a reality, and the performance, will be where we need,” Trabbia said.

Of particular interest to Orange is to develop O-RAN solutions in alignment with its desire to develop automated, self-healing, networks – hence the focus on the RIC. At the moment, Orange already implements a C-SON solution from Cellwize, and Orange sees the RIC as a means to expand its automation of RAN optimisation and healing, by deploying xApps from third parties.

Arnaud Vamparys, SVP Radio Networks and 5G, said that Orange wants to be able to access software from smaller and new software providers that would not normally find it easy to engage with large operators, or vendors.

The operator also said it would be making security a speciality of the Integration Centre , so that it completely understands the implications of disaggregating the RAN.

Nokia’s Chantereau said that achieving a programmable RAN via the RIC will enable operators to structure networks that can meet specific customer needs. Nokia’s product leaders for the RIC are based in France, he added.

One example of the RIC in action that Orange showed was of a multi-operator indoor network. Here customers of two different operators connect to an RU that is connected to two operator core networks, using MORAN. The associated RIC can allocate bandwidth dynamically depending on the requirements of the site. For example, if there were many more customers of one operator than a rival operator within a building, the RIC could instruct the RU to divert more bandwidth to operator A vs operator B. The demo was a broad demonstration of the sort of customisation that the RIC can perform, and was delivered using FlexRIC, based on open base station interfaces.