As the rollout of 5G networks gains momentum, service providers are confronted with two key challenges: the need to expand network coverage and the imperative to support the burgeoning demand for ultra-high capacity traffic. Addressing these challenges while facilitating advanced services necessitates the installation of numerous new routers at key locations, including the network's edge, cell sites, and aggregation points.
While conventional closed routers are capable of fulfilling these requirements, their cost and limited flexibility have prompted many service providers to explore alternatives. Enter Disaggregated Open Routers (DORs) and, more specifically, Disaggregated Cell Site Gateways (DCSGs). These open, flexible solutions have caught the attention of many industry professionals who recognize their potential for positive change.
To gauge the state of the routing market, Fierce Wireless along with Tantra Analytics, conducted a comprehensive survey. This includes the perspectives of 262 potential and current DOR users, including CTOs, network designers, network planners, professionals in network operations roles, and comparable potential users.
The survey delved into participants' awareness of DORs, their active involvement in the market, and their perspectives on the advantages and challenges associated with DOR deployment. Notably, a substantial 70% of survey respondents were aware of DORs, with 60% of that cohort actively evaluating or deploying DORs. These figures signify a robust and promising trajectory for DORs as a routing solution within the 5G ecosystem.
The high rates of awareness and adoption are particularly noteworthy when considering that survey participants acknowledged concerns related to product maturity, quality and reliability, and interoperability with existing infrastructure as top challenges associated with DOR deployment.
Survey Participants and Their Roles in DOR Evaluation and Deployment
The 2023 "State of DOR and DCSG" survey targeted potential customers in the market seeking DOR solutions for 5G deployments. These deployments encompassed DORs for a variety of applications, including cell sites, the network edge, aggregation points, and even the network core.
The survey gathered responses from participants representing diverse company types and job functions including:Company Types
- Mobile operator (owns licensed spectrum) - 23%
- Systems integrator - 18%
- Broadband telco - 10%
- ISP - 8%
- Utility/government/municipality - 6%
- Mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) - 6%
- Tower operator - 2%
- Other - 27%
- Network operations - 23%
- Strategy and planning - 19%
- Network engineering - 13%
- Network design - 8%
- Procurement - 6%
- Other - 27%
Key Survey Findings: Awareness and Deployment Trends
A significant finding from the survey is that a substantial majority of potential DOR users (70%) are already aware of DOR technology. Furthermore, 60% of these aware users are actively engaged in evaluating or deploying DORs. This data underscores the growing momentum of DORs as viable routing solutions for 5G networks, despite the acknowledged challenges.
Deployment Preferences and Locations
Survey participants offered insights into their preferences for initiating DOR deployments, shedding light on their strategic approaches. In this area of the survey the participants were given the ability to select multiple options resulting in a total that exceeded 100%:Deployment Locations:
- Edge: 53%
- Cell site: 53%
- Aggregation point: 41%
- Core: 30%
- Undecided: 24%
Notably, 53% of survey respondents expressed their intention to commence DOR deployments at the network's edge, while an equal percentage favored initiating deployments at cell sites. These findings highlight the flexibility and adaptability of DORs, as they can be effectively integrated into various network locations to meet diverse requirements.
Challenges and Rewards of DOR Deployment
The survey revealed a set of compelling motivations driving the adoption of DORs among potential users. The top reasons cited for deploying DORs included flexibility, reduced capital expenditure (CAPEX), the ability to introduce new services, and the potential for increased revenue streams.
These reasons illuminate the attractiveness of DORs, not only for their technical capabilities but also because of the limitations associated with closed proprietary routers. Closed routers are known for their inflexibility, high costs, and constraints in accommodating new services and revenue growth. By contrast, DORs offer a more agile and cost-effective alternative.
However, despite the clear advantages, challenges remain. The survey identified product maturity, interoperability with existing infrastructure, and concerns about quality and reliability as the top challenges for potential DOR users.
Notably, product maturity was considered challenging by 57% of respondents who were not considering DOR deployment. Nevertheless, 60% of functions actively evaluating or deploying DORs are proceeding despite these concerns, suggesting that product maturity may not be the sole determinant in the decision-making process.
The Road to Maturity: DORs and TIP Standards
DORs, characterized by their decoupling of hardware and software components, offer service providers and vendors the freedom to navigate the road to maturity with increased flexibility and innovation. This separation enables them to explore non-proprietary open standards for enhanced interoperability, a critical factor in addressing challenges and fostering growth.
A pivotal development in this journey is the adoption of Telecom Infra Project (TIP) standards, which align DOR vendors toward overcoming obstacles related to interoperability and quality. The participation of customers and vendors across the industry in TIP initiatives underscores the collective commitment to the advancement of DOR technology.
DORs have not only redefined the router landscape but have also spurred the evolution of device families with varying port densities and future-proof features. This ensures interoperability among open hardware platforms, Network Operating Systems (NOS), open-source applications, and diverse network design schemes. The result is a more agile and adaptable network infrastructure that empowers service providers to monitor performance, assess open router performance, and facilitate seamless upgrades without the need for extensive rip-and-replace operations.
Another noteworthy aspect is the continuous improvement in DOR software (NOS) as vendors consistently push updates. These updates enhance functionality, Return on Investment (ROI), and Quality of Service (QoS), further contributing to the overall maturation of DOR technology in a dynamic marketplace.
While progress is evident, survey respondents expressed reservations about the quality and reliability of DORs, particularly in the context of their critical role in 5G networks. However, it's essential to recognize that these concerns are not unique to DORs; they are often associated with the adoption of any transformative technology. Real-world data from ongoing DOR evaluations may help alleviate these concerns, demonstrating the technology's practical robustness.
Through collaborative efforts involving industry stakeholders, including service providers, vendors, and technology experts, TIP standards for DORs undergo rigorous testing and validation procedures to ensure adherence to stringent quality and performance benchmarks. As a result, DORs are subject to thorough quality assurance processes, enhancing their reliability and network performance to align with TIP standards.
Yet, challenges remain, notably the absence of a single point of accountability ("throat to choke") and an unclear operational model. These concerns arise from the intricate nature of DORs, which can incorporate components from multiple vendors. Understandably, questions may arise regarding the seamless integration and coordination of these components. However, forward-looking service providers are advised to seek DOR providers like Ceragon that can address these challenges comprehensively, assuming ownership of the entire solution.
A promising avenue for addressing these challenges involves the efficient integration of DORs as Disaggregated Cell Site Gateways (DCSGs) with wireless backhaul in a unified solution. This approach enhances the scalability of network functions such as routing and packet processing, optimizing them for the escalating demands of network traffic without necessitating the replacement of network nodes.
Furthermore, service providers now have the option to select from a range of backhaul radio systems or choose a single device that integrates both a DOR and a virtual Indoor Unit with NOS like Ceragon’s IP-50FX. This integrated approach minimizes indoor equipment costs, streamlines cluster management, and simplifies IP address allocation. "Radio-Aware" DORs possess the capability to autonomously detect and manage radio clusters, enhancing operational efficiency.
Additional Insights: Switching Capacity Configuration
The survey offered additional insights into the preferred switching capacity configuration among respondents. It revealed that 100 Gbps or less is the most popular choice for cell sites. This aligns with the flexibility offered by DORs, allowing respondents to select the hardware and software components that best suit their specific needs.
Conclusion: The Path Ahead for DORs and DCSGs
The trajectory of DORs and DCSGs in the 5G landscape is becoming increasingly clear. With Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) investing in additional millimeter wave spectrum to accommodate higher capacity demands, the need for DORs has never been more evident. DORs facilitate the accelerated deployment of cell site gateways, establishing seamless wireless links for efficient backhaul connectivity.
The survey findings not only illuminate the rewards and challenges associated with DOR technology but also indicate a pronounced trend. A substantial percentage of potential users, upon learning about DORs, are actively evaluating or deploying them. The key drivers motivating their adoption include flexibility, reduced CAPEX, the ability to launch new services, and the potential for increased revenue.
While challenges remain, such as concerns about product maturity, interoperability, quality, and reliability, the industry's commitment to TIP standards, ongoing innovation, and collaborative problem-solving are driving DORs toward greater maturity and reliability.
Incorporating DORs as DCSGs with wireless backhaul offers a promising solution to overcome deployment challenges while enhancing network scalability and efficiency. As DOR technology continues to evolve, it will play a pivotal role in the expansion and optimization of 5G networks, ushering in a new era of connectivity and communication. The journey may be intricate, but the destination promises a more connected and resilient future.
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