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The ability to drive automation within the operator network makes SMO immediately attractive to any mobile operator who wants to increase automation to reduce operating costs and ultimately improve profitability.

The main problem with SMO, however, is that it is designed to automate open RAN networks, which make up only one to two percent of deployed networks today.[1].

To put this in context, it’s like inventing a perpetual motion engine to replace an internal combustion engine and then, in small print, explaining that it only works in Porches or Ferrari. Great news in general, but not really that useful for 98 percent of drivers.

So the key question is, “Is there a way for the SMO concept to be applicable to 100 percent of the radio access networks deployed worldwide?”

Fortunately, we believe that there is an answer – a simple answer – to this last question. And this answer is to expand this to address the existing, specially built RAN.

But where are they with that now?

Open RAN is an exciting and destructive development in our industry, but the technology is still at an early stage. We see several new, new entrants who want to deploy new 100% Open RAN networks. We also see many leading communication service providers (CSPs) testing the technology, often in remote, rural or controlled environments such as universities or business campuses.

The industry analysis firm, Gartner, has developed an interesting model for considering the introduction of new technologies, called “Gartner Hype Cycle. ‘ The advertising cycle outlines a number of stages between the “innovation trigger”, where the new technology is conceived, and the “productivity plateau”, where the technology is widely accepted and begins to yield results. It is difficult to judge where Open RAN is in the cycle, but widespread media coverage and speculation give the impression that Open RAN is simply passing the “peak of heightened expectations:” it is essentially still at a relatively early stage.

Open RAN and the O-RAN Alliance architecture

Let’s take a brief look at the O-RAN Alliance. The O-RAN Alliance is led by a service consortium of over 300 companies working on the Open RAN concept. They have defined an Open RAN architecture, which, as the name suggests, has an openness in its heart.

O-RAN Alliance - Open RAN architecture

Figure 1. O-RAN Alliance – Open RAN architecture

The open RAN architecture defines or is in the process of defining a number of open interfaces, imaginatively called interfaces O1, O2, A1 and R1. These interfaces are not yet standardized in the same way that, for example, 3GPP Release 17 is standardized, but there are strong aspirations for openness and standardization within the O-RAN Alliance.

Ericsson is a major contributor to the O-RAN Alliance’s service management and orchestration working groups, and we have a number of ideas on how the SMO concept should be implemented.

Expansion of SMO for multi-technology support

At the beginning of this blog, I gave the analogy that the O-RAN Alliance SMO is a bit like building a constant-motion engine to replace an internal combustion engine, but only work with one brand of high-performance car. Brilliant, innovative, but not really useful for 98 percent of motorists.

But what if you could take the concept of SMO and expand the automation capabilities provided by SMO – RAN real-time intelligent controllers (non-RT-RIC) and their automated rApps – in the field of existing, targeted built RANs networks? In fact, build a perpetual motion engine for every driver.

At Ericsson, we believe this is very possible. To achieve this, we will start with the existing centralized self-optimizing networks (C-SON) and network design and optimization applications (NDO), which are already implemented in networks. Today, these applications are often deployed on tightly integrated application platforms to perform specific automation operations. The SMO architecture effectively allows you to recreate these applications as RAN or rApp automation applications, as well as standardize the main application environment: SMO without RT-RIC, which uses the R1 interface, which allows interoperability between platforms and vendors.

“This report analyzes the development of C-SON modules and the uses that become applications in the RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) required in open RAN, open virtual RAN and software-defined RAN (SD-RAN) architectures.”
– Stefan Terral, chief analyst

Soon report from the analytical company Light Counting emphasizes the expectations that the existing C-SON applications will become applications in the intelligent RAN controller (RIC).

The ability to run rApps to optimize both Open RAN and existing custom 4G and 5G networks is deep. If this can be achieved, one of the main barriers to SMO adoption will be overcome – scalability.

Obviously, it’s hard to justify investing in an automation platform for a small percentage of your current network. That’s why we’re expanding the scope of SMO to cover Open RAN and custom RAN. – this leads to an investment covering the whole network, with the advantages of automation being applied in a similar way to the whole network. At Ericsson we call this approach multitechnology: the ability to automate and organize Open RAN and specially built RAN.

Avoid SMO silos

Another major barrier to acceptance is the management of multiple vendor RANs. For Open RAN networks, the open interfaces A1 and O1 allow a common approach to managing the new Open RAN technologies, but the challenge is how to manage specially built 4G and 5G RAN networks of multiple providers.

Expansion of SMO to address the specially constructed RAN

Figure 2. SMO extension for addressing the specially constructed RAN

These networks have a vendor-specific equipment management system or EMS, such as Ericsson’s own Ericsson Network Manager (ENM) or Nokia’s NetAct. There are successful approaches, such as the Operational Support Systems Interaction Initiative (OSSii) initiative, to promote interoperability between equipment suppliers, but not every vendor is actively involved. What OSSii proves, however, is that there are ways to manage multiple EMS and RAN providers.

The reason why this is important is that without effective interaction in the existing specially built RAN networks, there will be a tendency to implement vendor-specific SMOs. Having an SMO per equipment supplier is counter-intuitive and seems to increase the complexity instead of reducing it.

Our belief is that the operator network must have one SMO: deployed on site, in the cloud or as a service (aaS), depending on the wishes of the service provider. This single SMO will process the new Open RAN technologies through the open interfaces A1 and O1 and specially built networks from multiple providers through their own interfaces.

This approach provides a single “glass screen” operational overview of the network, which reduces complexity and ultimately reduces operating costs.

At Ericsson we call this approach multi-suppliers.

Recommendations for accelerating the adoption of SMOs

In the new Ericsson SMO White Paper, Smart Platform: Using SMO on O-RAN as a tool for openness and innovation in RAN,, We outline five recommendations for speeding up SMO adoption and shortening the advertising cycle:

  1. Implementation in complex RAN environments: we recommend implementing SMO in complex networks with multiple vendors and many technologies, where the automation platform can create the greatest operational impact.
  2. Targeted addressable areas with high operating costs: network deployment and network operation are two of OPEX’s largest addressable areas, we recommend these areas be early targets for new automated rApps and xApps.
  3. L.always proven use cases: there is an opportunity to take proven capabilities and scale them up by taking existing centralized SON applications and network design and optimization and using them to create new automation applications running on a common platform.
  4. Use best in class Applications: Use automation applications from a wide variety of developers, including network equipment vendors, CSPs, and third-party professionals. Be prepared to test such applications and choose the ones that make the best use of all the tools that accelerate open innovation, such as software development tools, partner development ecosystems, and even markets, to increase your choice.
  5. Implementation in multi-technology networks: SMO provides maximum return on investment (ROI), where it allows automation for 100 percent of the network. The presence of high levels of automation in the Open RAN network is a way to ensure that the new technology is reliable for the future. However, adding high levels of automation to the existing custom RAN, which accounts for more than 98 percent of CSP networks today, is also highly desirable.

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[1] Source: Article: The RAN market breaks expectations in 2020: Dell’Oro Group – February 19, 2021