A RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) is a software-defined component of the Open RAN architecture that’s responsible for controlling and optimizing RAN functions. The RIC is a critical piece of the Open RAN disaggregation strategy, bringing multivendor interoperability, intelligence, agility, and programmability to radio access networks. The RIC enables the onboarding of third-party applications that automate and optimize RAN operations at scale while supporting innovative use cases that lower mobile operators’ total cost of ownership (TCO) and enhance customers’ quality of experience (QoE).
What are the advantages of using RIC ?
As many 5G experiences require low latency, 5G specifications like Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS), functional RAN splits and network slicing, require advanced RAN virtualization combined with SDN. This combination of virtualization (NFV and containers) and SDN is necessary to enable configuration, optimization and control of the RAN infrastructure at the edge before any aggregation points. This is how the RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) for Open RAN was born – to enable eNB/gNB functionalities as X-Apps on northbound interfaces.
Applications like mobility management, admission control, and interference management are available as apps on the controller, which enforces network policies via a southbound interface toward the radios. RIC provides advanced control functionality, which delivers increased efficiency and better radio resource management. These control functionalities leverage analytics and data-driven approaches including advanced ML/AI tools to improve resource management capabilities.
So It helps the MNOs onboard applications to improve network performance, increase business agility and reduce costs.
What are the Types of RIC in the ORAN Architecture?
The O-RAN Alliance’s architecture extends the 3GPP’s open RAN architecture to further disaggregate the RAN and open it up to multiple vendors. As below figure, the O-RAN architecture splits the distributed unit (DU) of the 3GPP into a DU and a radio unit (RU) and also added the RIC in the heart middle of the architecture
There are two logical forms of the RIC, and each performs a different function.
Non-Real-Time RAN Intelligent Controller (Non-RT RIC) functionality includes configuration management, device management, fault management, performance management, and lifecycle management for all network elements in the network. The primary goal of Non-RT RIC is to support intelligent RAN optimization by providing policy-based guidance, model management and enrichment information to the near-RT RIC function so that the RAN can be optimized. Non-RT RIC can use data analytics and AI/ML training/inference to determine the RAN optimization actions for which it can leverage SMO services such as data collection and provisioning services of the O-RAN nodes.
Near Real-Time RAN Intelligent Controller (Near-RT RIC) is a near‐real‐time, micro‐service‐based software platform for hosting micro-service-based applications called xApps. They run on the near-RT RIC platform. The near-RT RIC software platform provides xApps cloud-based infrastructure for controlling a distributed collection of RAN infrastructure (eNB, gNB, CU, DU) in an area via the O-RAN Alliance’s E2 protocol (“southbound”). As part of this software infrastructure, it also provides “northbound” interfaces for operators: the A1 and O1 interfaces to the Non-RT RIC for the management and optimization of the RAN.
The main takeaway: Near-RT RIC is responsible for creating a software platform for a set of xApps for the RAN; non-RT RIC provides configuration, management and analytics functionality. For Open RAN deployments to be successful, both functions need to work together.
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