November 13, 2023
The goal of the two-year 5G Challenge was to accelerate the adoption of 5G open interfaces, interoperable subsystems, secure networks, and multi-vendor solutions, by fostering a large, vibrant, and growing vendor community dedicated to advancing 5G interoperability towards true plug-and-play operation.
In the 2022 5G Challenge, ITS assessed the state of the Open RAN industry through a multiple stage evaluation process. During Stage One, contestants applied to participate by submitting a white paper, which required contestants to document 3GPP standards and O-RAN ALLIANCE specification compliance and subsystem test reports. The most qualified contestants were accepted through early-bird and final submittal phases. In Stage Two, contestants’ subsystems were evaluated independently with a wrap-around emulator and test harness. Six contestants successfully conducted subsystem testing to demonstrate baseline functionality. In Stage Three, multiple vendor subsystems were integrated into an end-to-end (E2E) network. One team of three contestants successfully completed interoperability testing centered on a simple data session.
Building on the success of the 2022 Event, the 2023 5G Challenge sought to unveil vendor community progress in demonstrating interoperability in the Open RAN ecosystem. Ten selected contestant subsystems completed Stage Two testing in an accelerated timeline. Four different multi-vendor RAN solutions successfully completed an enhanced Stage Three that included intense E2E interoperability confirmation, performance testing, and load testing. The 2023 Event marked the most significant advance achieved thus far: completion of mobility testing (handover via both NG and Xn interfaces) by two contestant teams in Stage Four testing. These results clearly point to significant developmental advances by the contestants in the Open RAN space and confirm Open RAN is progressing to integration in operator and enterprise networks.
“One of the things we’re here to celebrate is that for the first time we’ve shown multi-vendor mobility. This is a massive milestone in the maturity of this technology and a huge achievement for the community.”
Principal Director for FutureG & 5G
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering
The final stage of the Challenge focused on Mobility Testing, with the goal of demonstrating multi-vendor handover, over both the Xn and NG interfaces. Each mobility team involved a cold pairing of four vendors. Successfully integrating subsystems from four different vendors to run in real time demonstrated that multi-vendor handovers are possible. The two mobility teams (each set of four unique vendors) successfully demonstrated handover on both the Xn and NG interfaces and passed all the mandatory and conditional mandatory tests. Achieving successful Xn and NG cold pairing handover was an industry first and demonstrates a maturing Open RAN community.
The 2023 5G Challenge created a broad range of test cases more deeply aligned with both 3GPP standards and O-RAN ALLIANCE specifications. The 2023 5G Challenge testing included more than 80 percent of the O-RAN ALLIANCE Working Group 4 required tests for certification of the Open Front Haul interface. Additionally, the 2023 interoperability tests had a much deeper focus on performance. The 52 Stage Three mandatory tests and nine conditional mandatory tests demonstrated carrier level performance of the multi-vendor RANs. As compared to 2022, the 2023 contestants passed substantially more tests, which demonstrated significant progress within the Open RAN industry.
“Initiatives like the 5G Challenge are important to ensure that Open RAN lives up to its promise and brings about greater transparency, diversity and security in 5G. The competitors who succeeded in this Challenge prove that interoperability between vendors in the RAN network is a reality.”
Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology
National Security Council
The hallmark of the 5G Challenge was the requirement for multiple vendors, which had never worked together, to integrate and successfully complete a broad set of test cases in a short period of time. This was a departure from past Open RAN Global Plugfests, which were demonstrations of interoperability by vendors who had worked together for months prior to the Plugfest. The results of the 2023 5G Challenge provide the industry a new level of confirmation and confidence in Open RAN for the commercial wireless ecosystem.
Private Networks and The Future of Open RAN
Due to the applicability of private networks to various enterprise use cases, private network demand for 5G wireless networks could potentially match mobile network operator (MNO) demand. MNOs require backwards compatibility (the “brownfield” problem). Private networks are small and freer to entirely replace any pre-existing network (the “greenfield” advantage). Data intensive systems deployed in rural areas need significant communications infrastructure support. A wind farm needs massive real-time data transmissions to monitor and control wind turbines. An isolated rural hospital needs ultra-reliable and low latency communications to involve remote experts in emergency diagnoses.
Private network operators may be interested in the results of the 5G Challenge. Test results demonstrated that Open RAN systems work at a load and scale that aligns with many private network use cases.