Turning to New Open RAN Test Strategies as Rollouts Ramp Up


Telecomunications tower for O-RAN

With Open RAN expected to support a range of technology options, the ATIS Open RAN Minimum Viable Profile (MVP) project offers a common set of baseline capabilities to streamline deployments. Moving beyond pilots and limited deployments will require new testing methodologies.

Against a challenging macroeconomic environment, the Open RAN ecosystem has expanded to include more than 90 suppliers. This progress comes in the face of still to be proven economics, competing market interests and ongoing alignments around standards.

2024 gave Open RAN its biggest boost yet as Vodafone and AT&T joined more than 30 global operators in commitment to implementation of open radio interfaces.

Still, the road remains challenging for the vendors working to meet the whims of the ever-evolving Open RAN market. Driving growth means establishing easier means to serve changing market demands and there are initiatives under way to do just that.

All eyes are on scaling Open RAN adoption and performance capabilities. This will require operators to have confidence in what is being deployed. With that in mind, it's time to move beyond basic testing approaches for pilots and trials to focus on validating carrier-grade readiness for commercial at-scale deployments.

Based on our Open RAN testing work with stakeholders globally and understanding near-term goals and concerns, testing efforts are moving focus towards Minimal Viable Profiles (MVPs) and system blueprints, single-vendor and multi-vendor deployments, and meeting carrier-grade test requirements for commercial deployments.

Blueprints and Minimal Viable Profiles could be Open RAN's real MVPs

The market is eyeing 2025 to 2026 for larger scale macro-coverage deployments, a timeframe that dovetails perfectly with 5G RAN refresh cycles for early 5G adopters.

As we get closer, Open RAN is being asked to support a range of technology options, capabilities, and deployment configurations. It seems every operator would like to order its own flavor. This is creating a murkier path to commercial viability for stakeholders and an exercise in endurance for those that can keep up with the changes while the market proves itself. And of course, whatever is deployed ultimately must be proven at scale.

Help is on the way from ATIS and the Telecom Infra Project (TIP).

The ATIS Open RAN Minimum Viable Profile (MVP) has backing from major North American mobile network operators (MNOs) and plans to define a common set of baseline capabilities to streamline deployments. Rather than attempt to cater to each individual taste, this initiative will help stakeholders understand common architecture, features, performance, and interoperability requirements. Instead of heads spinning trying to support hundreds of iterations, the MVP should help vendors prioritize what is most important when developing solutions so they can get to market faster with a more attractive offering.

A similar effort by TIP specifies a set of Open RAN deployment blueprints and configurations that can be rolled out in a range of scenarios. For instance, the IoT profiles being developed will make it easier for component vendors to test, implement, and optimize solutions. Vodafone and NTT DOCOMO are early supporters of blueprints, which is expected to reduce test and integration cost and complexity. The bottom line is if operators can address a wider market with the same products, they will be able to maximize ROI.

Single-Vendor Now, Multi-Vendor Later

Vendor diversity remains one of Open RAN's primary goals, but many operators are content to take a raincheck and start with single-vendor, provided architectures are as flexible as vendors say they are. And in many cases single-vendor will still encompass vendor diversification as new underpinning server and cloud infrastructure vendors are introduced.

By testing multi-vendor interoperability in single-vendor deployments, operators can validate the Open RAN networks they deploy now are compliant for a plug-and-play future. After all, a single-vendor rollout that is fully in alignment with standards is no less Open RAN than a multi-vendor rollout providing the same compatibility.

This development supports operators with the flexibility to get started with Open RAN right now versus waiting for the market to sort itself out over time. Overall, this facilitates Open RAN adoption, providing confidence that long-term interests are protected while simultaneously accelerating timetables and providing more time to work through the challenges of rolling out a new network.

Ultimately, the decision will depend on the operator's goals. Some will favor streamlining initial deployments with a single-vendor approach while others pursue multi-vendor to realize diversity-focused improvements like innovation and reduced costs.

New Testing Approaches to Accelerate Commercial Deployments

Until recently, Open RAN deployments have been stuck in various early technology readiness level (TRL) phases with testing efforts largely revolving around standards conformance, basic interoperability for badging, plug fests and trials, and research towards performance parity. Moving beyond pilots, trials, and limited deployments will require new methodologies and automation frameworks.

Large-scale commercial deployments demand testing approaches evolve to include:

  • Upper technology readiness levels (TRL) for system integration and interoperability

  • Non-functional testing for deployment readiness that spans real-world performance, security testing, hardening, and stability

  • Negative testing for resilience and disaster recovery

  • Lifecycle management testing that involves first office application (FOA) validation to include post-launch testing that continuously revalidates new releases, upgrades, and patches

  • Test automation and vendor-neutral test framework to reduce time and cost, establish confidence and trust with suppliers, and deliver consistent and repeatable outcomes

O-RAN Lifecycle Test Process

O-RAN Lifecycle Test Process

Once again, the goal is to establish confidence and trust while making it as easy as possible for suppliers to deliver consistent and repeatable outcomes.

Spirent’s test solutions deliver the performance and flexibility required to cost-effectively support the expanding Open RAN ecosystem as it moves from pilots and trials to large-scale commercial deployments.

For more on how to comprehensively test Open RAN and learn how operators like NTT DOCOMO are solving technology and multi-vendor complexity, read the case study, then download our How to Test Open RAN eBook.




Stephen Douglas
Stephen Douglas


Spirent is a global leader in automated test and assurance for the ICT industry and Stephen heads Spirents market strategy organization developing Spirents strategy, helping to define market positioning, future growth opportunities, and new innovative solutions. Stephen also leads Spirent’s strategic initiatives for 5G and future networks and represents Spirent on a number of Industry and Government advisory boards. With over 25 years’ experience in telecommunications Stephen has been at the cutting edge of next generation technologies and has worked across the industry with service providers, network equipment manufacturers and start-ups, helping them drive innovation and transformation.