PLDT’s wireless arm Smart Communications says it has successfully tested a fully functional Open RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) in a proof of concept (POC) with Japan’s NTT DoCoMo.
The POC – claimed by Smart as the first in the Philippines – was conducted at the at the PLDT-Smart Technology Innovation Center (Technolab) in Makati City. The Open RIC test utilized various existing use cases from Smart, including voice calls, video streaming, mobile games and video calls.
According to media reports, Smart installed xApps and rApps – network automation tools designed to optimize RAN performance – as part of the test. Smart said it tested several AI-powered intelligent applications, including traffic steering, optimization of network power consumption, and handover policy optimization.
While Smart’s self-optimizing network (SON) supports some of these features already, the operator said the RIC enables it to open up its RAN platform for fast, easy onboarding of open-source apps regardless of vendor.
The POC at Technolab used a combination of equipment from various vendors with DoCoMo’s OREX RAN and OREX SMO (service management & orchestration) frameworks.
OREX is DoCoMo’s Open RAN service brand, launched in September 2023 with the promise of making Open RAN easier to deploy. The OREX frameworks offer customizable options of Open RAN components certified by the O-RAN Alliance. DoCoMo had recruited 13 vendor partners for OREX at launch, including AMD, Dell, Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Intel, Mavenir, NEC, NTT Data, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Red Hat, VMware and Wind River.
DoCoMo says its OREX Open RAN services can reduce operator TCO by up to 30% when taking the costs of initial setup and ongoing maintenance into account. It can also reduce network design time and base station power consumption by up to 50% each.
Open RAN has long promised to make operator networks more flexible, agile and intelligent whilst helping operators saving costs mainly by helping them decouple RAN hardware and software.
The RIC – a software-defined component of the O-RAN architecture that's responsible for controlling and optimizing the RAN – is seen by many as key to Open RAN’s success because it’s designed to make Open RAN components from different vendors easier to integrate and manage.
Smart said it has been testing Open RAN technologies since the first quarter of 2023 after exploring the technology for almost four years. The RIC test marks the second phase of the POC.
“We are more confident that Open RAN will bring value by making our network more intelligent and efficient. This is a major milestone in future-proofing our network,” said Eric Santiago, FVP and network head at PLDT and Smart. “The potential of intelligent power optimization of Open RAN cell sites through the use of RIC rApps also positions us to reach our sustainability goals for our future networks.”