ETSI releases its first O-RAN spec for open fronthaul

ETSI O-RAN fronthaul
Image by LariBat | Bigstockphoto

ETSI has released its first O-RAN specification, which focuses on open fronthaul, one of interfaces in the O-RAN Architecture for open and intelligent RANs.

The document (ETSI TS 103 859, O-RAN Fronthaul Control, User and Synchronization Plane Specification v7.02”) specifies the control plane, user plane and synchronization plane protocols used over the fronthaul interface linking the O-DU (O-RAN Distributed Unit) and the O-RU (O-RAN Radio Unit) for the lower layer functional splits.

The scope of TS 103 859 includes both LTE and 5G NR.

ETSI approval will ‘enable broad adoption’

The ETSI spec is a step forward for the O-RAN Alliance, the telco-led industry group pushing for an Open RAN architecture that disaggregates hardware from software, allowing core RAN functions to be virtualized. Many telcos see O-RAN as a way to bring badly needed competition to the RAN vendor market – not least since Chinese RAN heavyweights like Huawei and ZTE have been blocked by government regulators in many countries for alleged national security reasons.

Claire Chauvin, O-RAN Board member and Strategy Architecture and Standardization Director at Orange, said in a statement that ETSI’s recognition of O-RAN specifications will help enable broad adoption of Open RAN.

“Having the O-RAN specification available as an ETSI specification adds further endorsement desired by commercial and public sector entities in a range of countries,” she said.

Even without ETSI’s backing, Open RAN solutions have seen a serious uptick in adoption in recent months. According to a recent report from Dell’Oro Group, Open RAN revenues, including O-RAN and OpenRAN radio and baseband, accelerated at a “torrid pace” in the first half of 2022.

Open RAN revenues in the North America region increased nearly four-fold year on year. North America and the Asia-Pacific together drove more than 95% of 2Q 2022 revenues.

Open RAN market share is still tiny

That said, while Dell’Oro now forecasts Open RAN revenues to more than double by the end of this year, Open RAN will still a tiny fraction of the overall RAN market at a little over 5%.

Dell’Oro’s VP RAN analyst Stefan Pongratz noted that much of the Open RAN growth in North America was coming from brownfield deployments. He added that current market dynamics favor the establishment rather than the plucky upstarts that Open RAN was envisaged to enable.

“The results in the quarter taken together with the underwhelming deal momentum with the emerging RAN suppliers are starting to shift the scale in favor of Open RAN being more a new requirement for the established players than a disruptive architecture for the smaller suppliers,” Pongratz said.

Meanwhile, the O-RAN Alliance says it’s preparing to submit more of its specifications to the ETSI Publicly Available Specification (PAS) process to have more  parts of its Architecture encoded as ETSI specifications.

Related article: Airtel backs partners developing Open RAN for its 5G network

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