AT&T, Verizon host open RAN plugfests in 2021

While AT&T and Verizon don’t often talk about open radio access network (RAN) technology, the carriers did host some plugfests this year along with prominent open RAN groups.

In October and November the O-RAN Alliance, the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) and the Linux Foundation brought together a variety of vendors and academics for open RAN plugfests, which were hosted by AT&T and Verizon across three labs in the U.S. A plugfest is an event where participants test the interoperability of their products.

AT&T and Verizon hosted open RAN plugfests this year in New Brunswick, New Jersey, along with Rutgers University; in Menlo Park, California, at the TIP Community Lab at Facebook (now known as Meta); and in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah.

The trials focused on open fronthaul conformance testing and multi-vendor interoperability. According to the O-RAN Alliance, other tests included:

  • O-Cloud infrastructure behavior in latency sensitive applications;
  • RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) demonstrations;
  • RAN slicing; 
  • AI-enabled management of multiple-operator and multiple vendor RAN with open radio unit pooling. 

In addition to the open RAN groups, along with AT&T and Verizon, other participants in the North American Plugfests included Analog Devices, Anritsu, Calnex, Capgemini Engineering, Casa Systems, CIG, Commscope, Corning, Foxconn, Fujitsu, highstreet technologies, Intel, IP Infusion, JMA Wireless, Juniper Networks, Keysight Technologies, Mavenir, MTI, National Instruments, NEC, Radisys, Rohde & Schwarz, VIAVI Solutions, VVDN and Wind River.

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Fierce recently spoke with a representative of NEC, which was one of the vendors that participated in the U.S. plugfests.

Patrick Lopez, NEC’s global VP of product management for 5G, said NEC was the only company that had massive MIMO open radio units at the plugfests. NEC's open radio units were integrated with open CU and open DU from other suppliers.

Lopez indicated that NEC sees itself as perfectly positioned to become a big player in the nascent open RAN ecosystem and disrupt the vendor landscape, which is currently dominated by Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei. He said, “NEC would like to think of ourselves as the best of both worlds. We’re a large telecom equipment manufacturer at scale. At the same time, we’re radically open, which allows for much more rapid pace of innovation. If you look at open RAN, we are still the only vendor in the world with a massive MIMO product deployed commercially at scale that is open RAN in an urban environment.”

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Lopez said any global operator that is deploying open RAN in a brownfield environment has already selected NEC, including NTT Docomo, Vodafone, DT and Telefonica. He said that in North America “we have engagements, but they’re not public yet.”