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stc Group is the first brownfield operator in Middle East & Africa to award a project for building a 4G/5G Open RAN network

stc Group, the engine of digital transformation, is one of the few leading global brownfield Operators and the first in the MEA (Middle East & Africa) region to award the commercial 4G/5G Open RAN project to a prime System Integrator, "Solutions by stc," for deployment and operation of the ORAN network. In collaboration with Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), this project is part of an effort to adopt new innovative technologies and enable the digital infrastructure.

This initiative marks a revolutionary shift in network infrastructure, introducing Openness, virtualization, and AI/ML-based automation in the Access network. It signifies the Group’s crucial step towards mobilizing networks into fully cloud-native access networks, serving as a foundation for more advanced and next-generation wireless infrastructure catering to the diverse needs of customers and enterprises.

The ambitious project is poised to leverage Open RAN standard architecture to transform the network, implementing a fully multi-vendor, inter-operable, cloud-native approach with centralized orchestration of RAN. This transformation aims to enhance network performance, facilitate the adoption of new use cases, ensure scalability, and deliver real-time services through a diverse and open supply chain. The announcement of this project underscores stc's unwavering commitment to spearhead Open RAN technological advancements in the region, reinforcing its strategic drive towards a digital future. This initiative aligns with stc's DARE initiative and serves as a crucial element of its role in advancing the Kingdom's Vision 2030 national goals of building cutting-edge digital infrastructure.

stc journey of Open RAN adoption started with a feasibility study in the year 2020 followed by the signing of MoUs with leading ORAN vendors to gain exposure to the technology. Pioneering Open RAN initiatives in the region, stc was the first to perform two successful 4G/5G O-RAN 7-2x Live trials in the year 2021-22, involving leading RAN vendor ecosystems. Going forward an RFI was floated in 2022 to evaluate the multiple ORAN solutions to determine the suitable vendor ecosystem and deployment topologies for the brownfield network. An RFP for the commercial project with a precise scope and ecosystem was released in mid-2023, eventually, the contract was awarded last month to the prime system integrator.

Elaborating on the technical aspects of the project, stc is set to deploy a multi-carrier 4G and 5G NSA (Non-Standalone), Open virtual RAN featuring the 7-2X split architecture in an urban area located near the capital city Riyadh. The deployment of the Open RAN solution adheres fully to the O-RAN Alliance standard architecture, encompassing all Open interfaces. Given the critical latency requirements of Open Front-haul and leveraging existing transport capabilities, both centralized and distributed deployment topology options have been selected for deployment.

stc is collaborating with Mavenir, a leading ORAN solution provider in the field of Open Radios and cloud-native RAN functions. To host the containerized RAN and automation workloads stc would establish new EDGE Data centres partnering with prominent IT vendors RedHat, Dell and Cisco, renowned for their cutting-edge solutions and industry leadership. An advanced automation layer from Juniper will be deployed, which will include a Radio intelligent controller (RIC near Real-time & Non-Real-time) and SMO (service & management orchestrator) with AI/ML-based x/r-Apps including both in-house and from Airhop.

stc has built an ORAN Testing Lab (E2E) as part of the project with the multi-vendor ecosystem, which would support testing and experimentation of new services, software & hardware “building blocks”, interoperability, automation platforms and app validation. This contributes as a podium for the development of local talent by providing hands-on experience in the rapidly evolving field of open RAN and edge computing technology.

In this event Eng. Haithem Alfaraj, GCTO, stc Group, said “ stc has long been recognized as a leader in embracing new technologies and innovations to drive network modernization and digital transformation. The awarding of the Open RAN project marks a significant milestone towards the evolution of open interfaces, virtualization, and AI/ML-based automation into the Radio Access network—a move poised to lay the groundwork for a more advanced and next-generation wireless infrastructure”.

He added “Our collaboration with 'Solutions by stc' for system integration, coupled with partnerships with renowned OEMs such as Mavenir, Juniper, Dell, RedHat, and Cisco, underscores stc's unwavering commitment to nurturing the multi-vendor RAN ecosystem. This collaborative effort is aimed at fostering innovation and automation within the mobile network domain, solidifying stc's position as a leader in catalyzing industry-wide transformation”.

This technological advancement aligns seamlessly with our strategic vision towards a digital future—a cornerstone of our business strategy. It represents a pivotal component of our commitment to delivering state-of-the-art infrastructure, ensuring that we remain at the forefront of driving innovation and shaping the digital landscape.

Source: Press Release