BT says RIC is Hull of a good idea

UK operator backs up talk with launch of a near real time RIC trial with Nokia.

BT is trialling the use of O-RAN RIC technology in the city of Hull, UK, using a RIC (Radio Intelligent Controller) software platform from Nokia to run optimisation software apps across a number of outdoor radio sites.

The trial starts at the end of February and runs for a month, with further phases planned to follow on, once BT has assessed the results of the initial deployment.

The radio sites in the trial, the RIC and the xApps (the radio software apps running on the near real time RIC) will all come from Nokia in this initial phase of the trial.

Chris Simcoe, BT’s Director of Network Applications Architecture, said, “The trial is initially focusing on load optimisation between layers and neighbouring sites as well as failure prediction.

“The initial phase will be Nokia Apps but we look to expand this in planning the further phases with the involvement of our Applied Research team, who have been doing work in this area, once we have a baseline of capability introduced into the network.”

In a briefing held in late 2021, BT said that it saw the RIC as one of the key benefits of O-RAN, even as it said that scale deployments of actual base station sites based on O-RAN technology were still some way off. Simcoe and Chief Architect Neil McRae said at the time that they saw the potential to use the RIC as a host for internally developed and third party algorithms that would improve network performance, and in time provide more flexible and targeted service capability. Seemingly trailing today’s announcement, McRae said that BT had ongoing trials on the RIC with Nokia, and the company added it is also working on a RIC trial with Accelleran, in that case targeting indoor optimisations.

The initial use cases in the BT trial show Nokia taking similar steps to Ericsson in developing its SON and optimisation software into a RIC platform. In Ericsson’s case that took the form of the recent launch of its Intelligent Automation Platform, and the integration of rApps from Viavi and Infovista.

Ericsson secured a friendly quote from BT’s McRae on its IAP launch press release, but it is Nokia that has got out in public first with BT with this initial trial. Arguably, Nokia has built greater C-SON (Centalised SON) capability in-house, with a C-SON capability forming part of its iSON Manager product following its 2015 acquisition of EdenNet. For some time it has stated its C-SON can carry out multi-vendor optimisation.

Historically, Nokia has also committed to and led development of near real time RIC (nrtRIC) specifications in O-RAN, a concept that develops cloud platform support for more time sensitive apps such as radio channel coding and scheduling for massive MIMO radios. Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom have gone further than most operators in public support for the nrtRIC. Deutsche Telekom most recently explored a software defined RIC with the ONF, using SON from AirHop as an xApp. In its labs, Vodafone has assessed nrtRIC operation using a VMWare platform, with a test case being MIMO channel coding software from Cohere Technologies as an xApp. DT has also had a look at the VMWare nrtRIC from VMWare, again with Cohere, in work it publicised two years ago.

As well as being a Nokia RAN area, Hull also provides BT with base stations connected by dark fibre from CityFibre, run by the network sharing jv MBNL. That may be relevant in terms of providing the  required connectivity between sites and the RIC.

Alongside the Hull announcement, BT said it will also open a dedicated Open RAN Innovation Centre at its Adastral Park facility later this year. A company release said, “This will provide opportunities for large and small vendors to develop and prove their equipment and provide a platform for open architecture progress across all network elements.”

UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that BT’s trial is of a near real time RIC platform from Nokia and not, as we were originally informed by BT, a non real time RIC.