PLDT wireless unit Smart Communications Inc. (Smart) has successfully deployed a fully functional Open Radio Access Network (ORAN) Proof of Concept (PoC), a first in the Philippines. The PoC was completed together with its partner NTT DOCOMO, INC. at the PLDT-Smart Technology Laboratory (Technolab) in Makati City.
“As we continue rolling out 5G in the Philippines, this is the best time for us to explore new and disruptive solutions in the telco industry that will pave the way for us to build the networks of the future,” said Eric Santiago, FVP and head of Network at PLDT and Smart. “By future-proofing our network, we are looking to use the same hardware and software until we roll out 6G in the future, fully maximizing our investments.”
Open RAN’s benefits include helping Smart save on cost, enabling Smart to be more flexible and agile, and making its network more intelligent. Reducing the cost to deliver will allow Smart to provide more affordable services or better services for the same cost. Making the network more intelligent will allow Smart to offer new and innovative services faster and more efficiently.
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This development is a significant milestone in Smart’s foray into Open RAN over the last three years. Smart has been exploring Open RAN since 2019 in order to find the most cost-effective solution for deploying and rolling out cell sites. ORAN allows the different components of the radio network to be disaggregated with the use of open-source software and general-purpose hardware.
In the said PoC, Smart successfully demonstrated file download speeds of more than 1Gbps, using an ORAN system in its laboratory. This demonstration is the first of several phases that Smart plans to test in order to confirm and understand the full potential of the technology.
Open RAN will allow Smart to mix and match hardware and software from any vendor, unlike in traditional vendor lock-in setups, wherein Radio Access Networks (RAN) equipment and software could only come from a single vendor for a specific area.
The ability to choose any vendor for software and for hardware separately, and at any time, will allow for flexibility and agility. Open RAN will also provide Smart with a vast ecosystem with more choices and deployment options. The same vast ecosystem is expected to lower prices due to increased competition and further foster innovations in the industry.
Open RAN will also enable Smart to serve Enterprise and Industry verticals better by employing multiple solutions from different vendors seamlessly.
“Open RAN allows the introduction of the RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) which will enable Smart to plug in any application (called xApps and rApps) that will make the network more intelligent and more efficient,” Santiago explained. “Intelligent RAN means better use of resources and the ability to develop more innovative services. An example would be applications that will reduce the power consumption of a cell site. This will reduce operational expenses, as well as contribute to the company’s sustainability efforts.”
This is just the first step for Smart in its journey towards RAN disaggregation. Disaggregation means separating hardware from software to allow mobile operators like Smart to choose any brand or vendor and reduce capex and opex.