AT&T, Nokia prove open RIC platform in live 5G network trial

AT&T and Nokia successfully trialed their jointly developed RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) software platform on the carrier’s live millimeter wave 5G network in New York City. This allowed external applications running at the network edge on an Akraino-based open cloud platform to manage some aspects of the radio network without interruption.

AT&T announced co-collaboration last year to create the software platform for the RIC and E2 interface defined by the O-RAN Alliance and made the RIC software available to the O-RAN software community.

The limited trial proved the RIC over AT&T’s 5G network, adding confidence that the new technology can work, in what Mazin Gilbert, VP of Technology and Innovation at AT&T called a “testament to what we can achieve through openness and collaboration.”

The RIC allows external applications, called xApps, to “control parts of the 4G and 5G radio network much faster than is currently possible through installed control applications,” wrote Michael Clever, SVP and head of Could RAN Edge Cloud Platforms, Mobile Networks at Nokia, in a blog Thursday.

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With RIC, operators can integrate applications from different sources for varying uses. Some benefits include adding new services more quickly, as well as improved spectral efficiency and network capacity. Clever cited the example of xApps using machine learning (ML) to drive more intelligent traffic steering across different layers and radio access technologies.

“Meanwhile, localized and use case-based customization and rapid onboarding of features will help to offer a far superior customer experience,” he wrote.

For the recent trial, xApps designed for better spectral efficiency and the previously mentioned customization ran at the edge of AT&T’s mmWave 5G network in NYC on an Akraino-based Open Cloud Platform.

Nokia said the trial achieved its test goals. “Both companies tested the RAN E2 interface and xApp management and control, collected live network data using the Measurement Campaign xApp, the neighbor relation management using Automated Neighbor Relation (ANR) xApp, and tested RAN control via the Admission Control xApp – all with zero interruption to the live commercial network,” according to the release.

RELATED: Nokia VP: Open RAN not a ‘binary choice’

In January 2019, in conjunction with their work on RIC, AT&T and Nokia signed a multi-year co-development agreement to expand Akraino Edge Stack capabilities to support RIC needs and other edge cloud platforms. The Akraino Edge Stack is a Linux Foundation project to build cloud infrastructure for open source edge deployments.

External xApps provide a variety of benefits, but running them at the edge achieves extreme use case needs.

“For example, it could enable dedicated network slicing and RAN optimization, while multi-access edge computing (MEC) could deliver ultra-low latency and allow critical content to be processed locally,” wrote Clever.  

Nokia continues to put its weight behind industry initiatives that support open interfaces, software, and ecosystems. Last month it was the first of the three major telecom gear vendors to join the OpenRAN Policy Coalition. Separately, just today Nokia’s Software business unit announced support for a TM Forum initiative endorsing the Open Digital Architecture (ODA) and Open Application Program Interfaces (OAPIs) for digital services.