Nokia continues open RAN pursuit with new U.S. test center

Nokia has launched a testing center focused on bringing Open RAN-compliant products to market.

The O-RAN Collaboration and Testing Center is located at the Finnish vendor’s offices in Dallas, with plans to expand to other locations globally down the line. Partnerships with O-RAN suppliers are a key aim and efforts initially target fronthaul and testing of xApps for Nokia’s near real-time RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) platform.

In March Nokia introduced a platform featuring O-RAN compliant RIC with its own xApps for things like advanced traffic steering and anomaly detection using machine learning to find and classify irregular behavior patterns in the RAN, which were in proof-of-concept trials. Notably, it supports external applications, from different providers that can be integrated to apply to various RAN uses. Vodafone recently showcased a capacity boost with a pre-standards RIC platform from VMware running 5G (MU-MIMO) software from Cohere Technologies on an open RAN test site.  

At the new Nokia facility O-RAN vendors can perform interoperability tests and end-to-end testing for open fronthaul and near-real-time RIC interfaces specified by the O-RAN Alliance. Other interfaces will be added later. In terms of participation, a Nokia spokesperson told Fierce that the center can host any Nokia customer interested in O-RAN implementation, and can also work with Nokia's strategic partners or vendors required by customers to validate the Open Fronthaul Interoperability Tests (O-FH IOT) specifications and xApps testing for the RIC.

Participants have not been named as of yet. 

At indoor testing Nokia's using shield boxes, so can add multiple spectrum bands in the lab - with TDD bands already present and FDD bands currently being added, according to the spokesperson.  

RELATED: Open RAN revenue skyrockets in Q1, tipped to double in 2021

Nokia emphasized a “collaborative, open, and impartial environment” and said participants can validate areas including control, user, management and synchronization plane compliance with O-RAN specifications. The facility also provides for confidentiality, according to the announcement, with separate secure work areas, network segregation, and access controls that isolate vendor personnel, equipment and data.

Pasi Toivanen, head of Edge Cloud at Nokia, said in a statement that the facility highlights the vendor’s continued commitment towards O-RAN and creating new products.

“At our Dallas offices, we have created a collaborative and secure working environment that offers best-in-class facilities to help our partners achieve their goal,” Toivanen continued.

RELATED: Nokia’s Uitto sees strategic play in O-RAN embrace

Open RAN has been getting attention from operators, as the ecosystem and specifications continue to develop. AT&T recently cited cost benefits and more fine tuning in the network, with plans to deploy open architecture over time.

Among the leading traditional RAN equipment vendors, Nokia’s been more vocal about its strategic decision to pursue open RAN. Speaking to FierceWireless earlier this year, Tommi Uitto, Nokia’s head of mobile networks, outlined a number of challenges he said still need to be overcome for open RAN including a more standardized blueprint. He also expressed confidence in the ability to compete against newer entrants.

“We can win business either in baseband or radio [RU], or both, in some of the networks where we’re not present today by being a leader in O-RAN,” Uitto said in March.

RELATED: AT&T can fine tune network with open RAN – Elbaz

Rival Ericsson launched an open 5G lab in Canada this year, but initially focused on the Swedish vendor’s cloud RAN, with tests and demos for a virtualized distributed unit (vDU) and virtualized Central Unit (vCU) starting in Q3.

Samsung notably just scored a big win in Europe this week as a RAN vendor for Vodafone in the United Kingdom. Vodafone already committed to 2,500 open RAN sites in the U.K. and recently announced its own open RAN R&D lab in the country.

And in the U.S. last week lawmakers passed a bill in the Senate that includes provisions to fund technology development with a focus on open architectures (though not necessarily O-RAN defined).

Updated with additional comments from Nokia.