5g network tower

Orange to trial cloud-based 5G network to cut hardware costs

Image credit: Dreamstime

Orange is trialling a new type of 5G network that uses a cloud-based open platform to run network functions in order to cut its use of physical equipment.

The experimental trial, launching in Lannion, France, will act as a blue-print for what Orange believes will be the future of next-generation 'zero-touch' networks.

It follows a tumultuous time for network operators in the West who have poured billions into setting up new 5G infrastructure, in most cases with equipment provided from Chinese firm Huawei, and then being forced to eventually remove the Huawei-built components over espionage concerns.

Several telecom companies are now experimenting with a technology called Open Radio Access Network (RAN), which uses software to run network functions on the cloud, a feature requiring less physical equipment. It is thought it could radically cut hardware costs for the firms and Open RAN is also interoperable between them.

Orange’s experimental network will be 100 per cent software-enabled, data- and AI-driven, as well as fully automated, it said.

Orange hopes to expand the network, called Pikeo, to other countries in 2022, once it is fully fledged and able to self-repair thanks to automation and machine-learning techniques. The machine learning will also be used to secure and optimise the network and predict its behaviour.

It will enable Orange to determine the future skills needed to operate a network running on the technology, as well as the environmental benefits. The project will run over a two-year period and ramp up to encompass several hundred users.

Michaël Trabbia, Orange’s chief technology and innovation officer, said: “Our ambition is to prepare Orange for the operator of the future by building more resilient and auto-adaptive networks that offer best-in-class quality-of-service in each situation.

“This experimental network represents an important milestone on our way to implement and deploy Open RAN and AI technologies to prepare on-demand connectivity and zero-touch operator capabilities.”

He added: “We’re seeing big expectations from customers, the industry ... as with the factory of the future: augmented maintenance, high-definition monitoring, logistical elements, which we’re working to optimise thanks to this type of network.”

Last week, the UK government announced it would back a new lab designed to speed up the development of 5G technologies in an attempt to compensate for the removal of Huawei from UK networks.

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