The future of the telecommunications industry hinges on interoperability. As technology becomes more infused into our daily lives, the necessity of network standardization, supplier-agnostic applications, and plug-and-play performance can’t be overstated.
This year, CableLabs was again selected as the host lab for the Challenge in partnership with Kyrio. As the first O-RAN Alliance Open Testing and Integration Center (OTIC) in the Americas, Kyrio is well positioned to perform testing for the 5G Challenge and beyond, provide technical analysis of testing results to NTIA-ITS and provide expert staff to assist contestant teams.
“By testing the use cases that NTIA-ITS established for the 5G Challenge we can provide critical insights,” said Jason Lauer, Vice President, Engineering and Operations at Kyrio. “With this information, suppliers can test against multiple environments and demonstrate the capabilities of a true plug-and-play product that is ready for the commercial market.”
4 Key Takeaways from the 5G Challenge
The 5G Challenge is a unique opportunity for suppliers in the 5G ecosystem to get critical feedback on these applications in a neutral lab setting.
“The testing we do in the 5G Challenge provides critical information to suppliers,” said Lauer. “It offers insights into what performance matrix should be included in design, what questions operators may ask suppliers, and what kind of testing should be done on devices.”
All of the test cases in the 5G Challenge focus on accelerating 5G interoperability and realizing the promise of Open RAN as the architecture of the future. To that end, the Challenge is a catalyst for ensuring that devices undergo the right kinds of testing before they go to market.
Here are four key takeaways for the Open RAN ecosystem as deployment strategies are developed:
- Test a solution in multiple settings.
Just because a device passes testing in one environment or network configuration doesn’t mean it will perform the same in another. Testing in multiple settings provides critical feedback to ensure that the device is compatible with other products and systems, a necessary feature to advance the adoption and deployment of Open RAN. The 5G Challenge includes testing in multiple settings and with other subsystems to be sure the product is ready for market.
- Understand the relevant standards and specifications.
Standards and specifications can be ambiguous and may have many different nuances. A clear understanding, by suppliers, of the applicable standards and specifications is necessary to effectively troubleshoot and overcome issues that may arise during testing and deployment. Each standard and specification can be met in multiple ways thus it is critical to ensure that the test protocols used by test labs have the ability to validate conformance with all the applicable standards and specifications.
- Create a set of functional requirements.
As devices are evaluated as an option for deployment, the supplier will need to show the device meets a common set of functional requirements and can interact with other devices in a variety of scenarios on a network. Conformance to O-RAN Alliance specifications and 3GPP standards is one piece of this puzzle, but it’s not enough to ensure plug-and-play operation. The 5G Challenge provides insights regarding performance metrics that can be used by multiple ecosystem stakeholders to understand potential problem areas, build out deployment strategies, and develop requirements documents for future suppliers.
- Allow ample time for testing.
Many suppliers underestimate just how long the full testing process takes, especially for new technology. The 5G Challenge is one way to help these suppliers build adequate time into their schedule as they see what goes into ensuring interoperability and O-RAN compliance.
For example, a supplier might have completed rigorous testing in their own environment and think that there isn’t much more they need to do. Yet, when that product is tested for interoperability with other solutions, they may discover errors not found in their own testing, and they may need time to correct them and re-test their solution. Understanding the testing process helps suppliers build adequate time into their development schedule to test and refine their product before commercial launch.
Stepping Into the Future of 5G Interoperability
One of the primary goals of the 5G Challenge is to accelerate the pace of innovation and adoption of Open RAN technology, which will factor into the availability of new domestic supplier options in the future. In line with Congress and the Administration’s focus on the benefits of OpenRAN, the 5G Challenge seeks to provide key technical guidance on emerging solutions, inform stakeholders on the ability of Open RAN to support innovative networks, and broaden industry participation in the development and adoption of Open RAN solutions.
That’s the focus of this year’s 5G Challenge. Developed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (NTIA-ITS) and sponsored by the Department of Defense (DoD), the 5G Challenge aims to accelerate deployment readiness for 5G Open RAN systems, interoperable subsystems, and multi-vendor solutions. The overarching goal is to to accelerate the adoption of 5G open interfaces, interoperable subsystems, secure networks, and multi-vendor solutions by fostering a large, vibrant, and growing vendor community dedicated to advancing 5G interoperability towards true plug-and-play operation.
As operators and suppliers gain more expertise in this area, we expect to see more new technologies entering the market that will establish Open RAN as the architecture of the future.