6G RAN Intelligent Controllers will function like an app store

At first blush, one would think a conversation about the RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) would be pretty dull. But some speakers at a recent 6G Symposium were enthused and animated talking about the future of the RIC.

A group of panelists said the advances of the RIC will someday enable the radio access network (RAN) to act as kind of an “Apple Store” for applications within the wireless network.

The panelists were speaking at a session entitled “Shaping the Future with O-RAN: Interoperability vs. Zero-Touch Control.”

Primer on the RIC

Balaji Raghothaman, chief architect for infrastructure solutions at Keysight Technologies, explained that “the RIC is really a creation within the O-RAN architecture.” He said the RIC will automatically manage much of the intelligence of the RAN in a way that was previously referred to as a self-organizing network (SON).

Raghothaman said the RIC will handle things like mobility and hand-over management, but as we move toward 6G it will also handle newer, emerging use cases where the intelligence of the network needs to be processed in a very complex way.

He said all of the RAN modules like the DU, CU and RU will provide data and measurements, which will be funneled to the RIC. The RIC will then take all of these measurements and process them within xApps and rApps. The apps will then control or configure certain network entities as they see fit.

“It provides the mechanism for a large number of players to enter this xApp and rApp kind of market and provide AI/ML engines that are able to do these really specialized things,” said Raghothaman. “So there could be many, many different xApps and rApps sitting in the RIC, and each of them could be doing very different things. Like one of them could be: control the flight path of an un-manned aerial vehicle.”

Apple Store analogy

John Baker, SVP of business development at Mavenir, said, “One of the visions that we’ve really been pushing is that the RIC actually starts to look like the Apple Store to the extent that I can have third-party applications sitting on a RIC controller that are designed for a specific use. And I think that’s the excitement as you take that into 6G to the extent you’ve got all this innovation that creates apps in the same way that Apple created apps for the iPhone, you can create apps and commercialize apps for the RAN.”

Paul Challoner, VP of network product solutions at Ericsson North America, said, “So the evolution path over the next few years will be the incremental sophistication of those applications, the increased use of AI, and the richness of variety of applications running on the app store. For example, I could say I want the network to perform differently when it’s raining; so weather dependency control of the network. So then the sophistication of control and the granularity of control of the RAN really will be enhanced over time as we move from 5G to 6G.”

STL’s Chris Rice touts RIC

Chris Rice, a well-known former AT&T executive, is currently leading STL’s nascent Access Solutions business. He’s focusing on both fixed and wireless access technologies, including involvement in the open RAN movement.

RELATED: Former AT&T exec leads STL’s foray into open RAN

Rice has previously flagged the importance of the RIC, saying STL’s goal is to be the RIC for the open RAN industry.

He especially highlighted TIP’s work on open RAN radios and RIC software. TIP has an open RAN subgroup called the Radio Intelligence and Automation (RIA) group that STL finds important. “They’ve done some interops on the RIC,” said Rice. “I think you’re going to see RIC’s importance will grow over time. I view it will be a very central element.”

And recently, two Japanese companies, NEC and NTT Docomo, said they were jointly developing a RIC for 5G use cases.

RELATED: NEC and NTT Docomo develop RAN intelligent controller

In their work together on the RIC, NEC and NTT Docomo aim to automate base station settings, optimize radio resources with compute resources, and reduce RAN power consumption.