Open RAN is an operator-led initiative seeking to improve competition in the supplier ecosystem, reduce costs and boost innovation. By breaking the RAN into discrete components with open, interoperable interfaces and decoupling software from the hardware it runs on, operators hope to curb the power of existing equipment suppliers and open the ecosystem to new players. Broad operator buy-in and strong political support has led to some significant success. However, there remains some disagreement about what exactly qualifies as “Open” RAN. 

At SRS, we build high-performance wireless networks. We’ve deployed continent-wide air-to-ground networks and ground-breaking satellite systems based on mobile wireless technology. We’ve been doing “Open” for more than a decade and this is what Open RAN means to us.

Most importantly, open means transparent. It means being able to lift the hood and see exactly what’s going on underneath. It means no black boxes. At SRS, our RAN software is open-source under an OSI-approved license and publicly hosted in our repositories. It’s auditable by anyone for conformance, performance and security.

To qualify as open, transparency is necessary but not sufficient. Open-source software is useful only to the extent that it can be read and understood. High quality open code must be structured with an intuitive architecture and consistent style and convention. Our measure of success is the extent to which others can take our code, understand it and adapt it to their own needs. For this reason, we track all published work which builds upon our software and highlight it on our project pages, along with top user success stories.

It’s not difficult to write easily understood code. The trick is in writing easily understood code which also competes on performance with the best solutions on the market. This is the purpose of our benchmarking unit tests, for testing and comparing the performance of our software on the widest range of processing hardware. Our recently-released suite of matlab test and analysis tools goes further, benchmarking the performance of our L1 DSP algorithms and FEC codec implementations.

Next on our checklist is usability. Open means being as easy as possible to get up and running for the first time user. Simplicity is key. Performance is essential but there needs to be a clear path to get there. No complex mandatory dependencies, no esoteric build systems, no application of custom patches to specific library versions to compile with particular kernels. Make it as simple as possible to get the basics working, then show how the basics can be improved upon to reach for the stars. Make it easy to use off-the-shelf debugging, profiling and analysis tools. This is the reason we built our own open fronthaul library from scratch. Running your first private network should take minutes, not days or weeks.

Last but not least, open at SRS means portable. Get the most out of the hardware but don’t limit your hardware options. Our hardware-specific code is written in libraries behind well-defined APIs and with multiple implementations including generic non-hardware-specific versions. Run on a Raspberry Pi, a Xeon Gold and everything in-between.

Now that you know what “Open” RAN really means, see how we put it into practice with our 5G Open RAN CU/DU – srsRAN