Telefonica dips another toe in Cloud RAN water

Telefonica looks at mmWave Cloud RAN from Ericsson, described as "foundational" to Open RAN plan.

Telefonica Group has another toe in the Cloud RAN water, with its Germany subsidiary scoping out a mmWave Proof of Concept using Ericsson Cloud RAN baseband software.

The companies said that the test took place at O2 Telefónica’s Wayra innovation hub in Munich, with a CU connecting to a mmWave radio unit. There weren’t many other details forthcoming about the trial set-up, scale, or channel bandwidths etc. Nor do we know the hardare or cloud environment in which the RAN software was deployed, although a best guess would be that both were Ericsson, the company has had working demos of its Cloud RAN on Intel-based commercial servers from, for example, HPE.

An Ericsson press release said that the grial achieved 4Gbps throughput, and posited that mmWave 5G using a Cloud RAN architecture could be applied to data intensive use cases such as FWA and private enterprise networks.

Ericsson also took the opportunity to claim that this Cloud RAN trial “serves as a crucial foundation for O2 Telefónica’s efforts to bring Cloud RAN technology to macro networks and demonstrates Ericsson’s commitment to Open RAN – paving the way for further advancements in cloud-native architecture and operation”.

That’s because Ericsson takes the view that its Cloud RAN deployments will proceed in accordance with Open RAN principles. It says this mainly because it is adopting a category of fronthaul that is being specified within O-RAN Alliance to enable enhanced performance for mmWave.

(Read this piece from MWC 2023 for lots more on this. In it, Ericsson’s head of Cloud RAN, Mårten Lerner says that now the O-RAN Alliance has adopted Ericsson’s proposal to enhance the Open FH interface, the vendor will support the O-RAN interface that it calls Next Generation open Lower Layer Split.“In the lower layer split we’re introducing the Next Generation open LLS, which is the evolution of the O-RAN split. And we’re also introducing the open interfaces on the management side – so northbound utilising both A1 and O1.

“When we look at this from a long term vision, now, we see that the NG LLS will be the interface that we will use for our radios across our portfolio going forward. So this is will of course not happen from day one, we have a lot of installed base that we need to take care of and all of that. But the long term vision is that the interface we will have between the compute side, and the radios will be NG LLS.)

Even if you take the view that a controlled single vendor trial in a technology hub is not the best proof of a “foundation” for Open RAN, what Ericsson wants to signal here is that its RAN software can be deployed on its own and on other hardware and cloud environments, and that when it says Cloud RAN, it also means that’s a route forward to Open RAN.

Mallik Rao, Chief Technology & Information Officer of O2 Telefónica, didn’t go so far as calling this an Open RAN deployment, but he did mention “open interfaces” in a quote on the press release: “With Cloud RAN, we combine the benefits of open interfaces with the expertise and product quality of European network equipment supplier Ericsson, whose technology we already use for our high-performance 5G core network.”

Ericsson also took time out to tell the world that Cloud RAN can enable network automation and RAN programmability – something that it sees as a chief benefit of putting RAN software into cloud native infrastructure.

“The integration of cloud-native architecture into the RAN presents an exceptional opportunity to foster innovation and enhance network efficiency. By virtualising the RAN and adopting a cloud-native, standardized architecture, O2 Telefónica will gain the ability to respond rapidly to customer needs, introduce new products and services with greater flexibility and agility, and realise benefits such as faster service delivery, improved scalability and enhanced cost efficiency.

Telefonica Group has been developing its cloud transformation plans for years now, as well as exploring open interfaces in the RAN with a number of vRAN companies. The Ericsson press reelase said that “the incorporation of Cloud RAN extends the foundation of the ongoing network cloudification efforts by Ericsson and O2 Telefónica in Germany,” where Ericsson is also deploying cloud core with the operator.

Another Telefonica Group property, VirginMedia O2 UK, earlier this year announced a Cloud RAN pilot deployment, this time with Open RAN vendor Mavenir. In Germany, the operator also has Cloud RAN technology from Nokia in its live 5G network, although that is not for mmWave spectrum. It had its first Open RAN site from Nokia live in 2020, working in this instance with NEC as the main integrator. The company said that it would see “industrialised” Open RAN deployed by the end of 2020. It also made a commitment to work with Rakuten Symphony on developing Open RAN enablers, although there has been little noise about that particular tie-up in recent times.

By 2021, Telefonica Group was saying that it wanted to see 800 live Open RAN sites and re-iterated its commitment to work with NEC as a prime systems integrator, following the “success” of live trials in Germany.

The Ericsson release, albeit it is focussing on mmWave use cases, is a sign that the operator is still looking at vendor choices for elements of Cloud RAN, describing those now as “foundational” for Open RAN.