The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) xG Testbed at Virginia Tech now boasts the only Open Testing and Integration Center (OTIC) in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Washington, D.C., region. 

One of six centers in North America and one of 15 in the world approved by the O-RAN Alliance, the CCI center will be an essential component to boosting advancements and competition in wireless mobile networks based on open radio access networks (O-RAN).

“Becoming an O-RAN testing and integration center aligns with our mission to spur innovation, integrate security, and lower barriers to entry in the wireless market,” CCI Executive Director Luiz DaSilva said. “Our investment in shared infrastructure gives industry partners and researchers across our network of more than 40 Virginia universities and colleges access to this crucial resource that will help build secure, fast networks.” 

O-RAN’s goal of intelligent, open, virtualized and fully interoperable mobile networks promises to spur marketplace competition and evolve network technology at a faster pace than proprietary or “black box” technology. OTICs help achieve that goal by allowing vendors and providers to test, evaluate, and verify their products and software solutions.

CCI xG Testbed and O-RAN

CCI received the OTIC designation due to its xG Testbed, the first end-to-end O-RAN-compliant testbed of its kind in the United States. Based at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, the testbed will serve as the OTIC host in partnership with AT&TDISH Network, and Verizon. CCI partners — George Mason UniversityWireless@VT, and Old Dominion University — are also involved, working together toward the goal of accelerating O-RAN advancement, innovation, and deployment.

In addition to the testbed in Arlington, an outdoor campus-scale testbed is under construction on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus. Its features include three commercial Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) base stations. 

Making connections

Base stations are at the heart of the mobile network ecosystem, providing consistent connection to devices. The next generation of communication networks has changed the traditional monolithic hardware base station to a disaggregated and virtualized base station, using mostly software instead of hardware to get the job done. Base stations have three components — a centralized unit and a distributed unit, which are both software driven, and the physical radio unit or antenna. Different companies may build each separate component.

Ensuring these different components work seamlessly together and spotting opportunities for improvement is where OTIC and the CCI xG Testbed can provide essential expertise, said Aloizio P. DaSilva, CCI xG Testbed director. 

“By conducting interoperability, conformance, and performance tests on those components as an OTIC site, we will identify and address key gaps, spurring innovation and early adoption in the wireless marketplace,” he said. 

OTICs are vendor-independent and designed to encourage and enable wide adoption of O-RAN specifications by confirming equipment manufacturers, system integrators, and software providers follow O-RAN Alliance guidelines. With a common platform and processes, OTICs can allow manufacturers to speed development of new radio access network (RAN) technologies and products. 

“We want to make sure all the components are speaking the same language and they can be easily integrated,” Aloizio P. DaSilva said. “Adding intelligence on these components by using artificial intelligence will allow all of our devices to work together and be connected, whether we’re walking down the street using our smartphones or in the park on a laptop or are emergency responders sharing the information they need to save lives. We want our mobile networks to run seamlessly and autonomously in the background as we go about our daily lives.” 

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