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Tap into the next big thing with Cloud RAN

Tap into the next big thing with Cloud RAN

To capture the 5G opportunity, CSPs need to have the right strategies in place. They’ll need scalability and flexibility, an architecture that offers both low latency and high capacity, as well as new operational models. Network virtualization will play a major part in making all of this possible — in this article we are going to focus on Cloud RAN and what makes it so important to 5G – with expert insights from Phil Marshall, Chief Research Officer of Tolaga Research.

Why now is prime-time for Cloud RAN

As 5G gathers pace, technology performance demands are increasing. To capture business opportunities with new services and technologies, such as immersive services, you need scalability, low latency, high performance and capacity as well as new operational models. Virtualization and network automation is also expected to result in significant improvements in the way Communications Service Providers (CSPs) manage their networks and deliver new services.

Cloud RAN is emerging as the key technology that will really help CSPs get 5G right. But why is that?

Phil Marshall said that while Cloud RAN is not new, the technology advancements and current market conditions that are fueling Cloud RAN adoption are new: “Over the past decade or more, Tier 1 CSPs have been pursuing network virtualization initiatives. While these initiatives has proven operationally disruptive, the CSPs that have perserved and transformed their operations accordingly, are now reaping the financial benefits of their efforts. For these CSPs, Cloud RAN is the logical next step in their virtualization journey, particularly with 5G and the proliferation of digital services, key technologies such as network slicing, and the increased demand for private networks.”

Marshall also added that Cloud RAN development and standardization has come a long way since its inception, making Cloud RAN technically and commercially viable. Significant progress has been made to disaggregate and virtualize radio functions, which results in greater flexibility for centralizing and distributing radio functions depending on design preferences and the availability of fronthaul resources.

Network diagram

Powering 5G with fully cloudified and disaggregated Cloud RAN solution

Cloud RAN virtualizes the baseband and decouples hardware and software, for them to have independent lifecycles. In a fully cloudified Cloud RAN, both the real-time and non-real-time baseband is virtualized and split into two separate functions – the virtualized Distributed Unit (vDU) and the virtualized Centralized Unit (vCU).

The traditional one-size-fits-all approach towards radio network design is no longer sufficient. Virtualizing the RAN edge enables the next generation of wireless solutions for consumers and enterprises. Cloud RAN provides the flexibility to scale capacity at will, as well as launch and monetize services quickly and meet the required latency. The fully cloudified Cloud RAN solution is also the foundation for flexible and dynamic end-to-end network slicing, from RAN across transport to Core.

Such flexibility together with automation will provide customers and end user applications with a more reliable 5G network that is tailored to them and enable CSPs to respond to diverse market demands with agility.

We continued our discussion with Phil Marshall, Chief Research Officer of Tolaga Research, on Cloud RAN evolution and why and how operators should adopt Cloud RAN:

  • How will network automation in Cloud RAN benefit CSPs?

“CSPs must embrace virtualization and network automation, particularly with 5G. But getting the right virtualization and network automation strategy is crucial,” Marshall started.

“Historically CSPs have depended on complex and vertically integrated network platforms and required extensive operational models to manage complexities and deliver high-performance services at scale. This changes with network virtualization with power IT platforms and IT-centric operational models that use automation to abstract operational complexity. As CSPs virtualize their networks, automation is inevitable but requires cleverly designed solutions to enable CSPs to migrate their legacy operational systems gracefully. These solutions have been developed and have matured over the last decade and are now readily available for CSPs to automate their network operations, “ he continued.

“Once implemented, virtualization and network automation bring unprecedented flexibility need for CSPs’ agile response to dynamic service demands and system failures. For this reason, network automation and network virtualization is fast becoming “table-stakes” for CSPs.”


Phil Marshall, Chief Research Officer of Tolaga Research

  • What should CSPs consider as they adopt Cloud RAN technology?

“CSPs’ Cloud RAN strategies must be carefully crafted to contend with operational disruptions and emerging service demands with future-proof infrastructure. For most CSPs, Cloud RAN cannot be treated in isolation and must be incorporated in broader initiatives that focus on network virtualization and software-defined networking,” Marshall said.

He added: “The combination of cloud RAN with open interfaces is appealing and creates the potential opportunities for CSPs to mix and match “best of breed” RAN components. While these open interfaces enable greater engagement amongst industry stakeholders, they must be treated with caution. Technologies like 5G have heightened innovation that typically favors virtual integration for feature transparency of core functions and mixing and matching to enable specialized capabilities (e.g., targeted private network form factors).

Since the communications industry has strong inertia to maintain status quo, the current industry momentum towards cloud RAN is significant. It is well-aligned with CSPs’ strategies to monetize emerging digital service opportunities with 5G,” Phil Marshall concluded.

Proven capabilities

Nokia´s AirScale Cloud RAN solution with both vCU and vDU, is in trials with major CSPs, such as the joint trial by AT&T and Nokia with a successful end-to-end over-the-air L3 data call over a fully virtualized Cloud RAN in a limited live trial, driving forward and open, programmable and virtualized radio access networks.

The AirScale Cloud RAN vRAN2.0 is a fully cloudified and disaggregated container based 5G base station with the vDU running on General Purpose Processor (x86) based computing with hardware acceleration in Layer 1 (L1 to meet growing market demands and application requirements cost-effectively for CSP and enterprise use cases. It also enables advanced capabilities including flexible end-to-end network slicing, brings the overall benefits of cloud computing to the RAN and provides the needed deployment flexibility for CSP and enterprise use cases. The edge optimized AirFrame Open Edge server for indoor/outdoor environments provides the base for Cloud RAN solutions, delivering the highest levels of performance, while the Fronthaul Gateway solution converts CPRI-based radios to eCPRI for the use in the fully cloudified AirScale Cloud RAN solution. The agile Nokia Edge Automation solution enables edge automation for hardware and software infrastructure to manage thousands of edge sites.

Further information
For more information, please visit our web site: AirScale Cloud RAN | Nokia Networks

Anna-Kaarina Pietilä

About Anna-Kaarina Pietilä

Anna-Kaarina Pietilä is responsible for AirScale and AirScale Cloud RAN at Nokia. She enjoys writing blogs about these solutions and about innovative, high-quality software which improve smartphone experience and network capacity. She holds an MA from Åbo Akademi University and University of Turku and is based in Finland.

Tweet me at @annapietil

Phil Marshall

About Phil Marshall

Phil Marshall is the Chief Research Officer of Tolaga Research, where he leads industry research, forecasts and data science. Previously, Dr. Marshall was an Executive at Yankee Group for nine years, and most recently led its service provider technology research globally, spanning wireless, wireline, and broadband technologies and telecommunication regulation. Marshall has 25 years of experience in the wireless communications industry. He spent many years working in various engineering operations, software design, research and strategic planning roles in New Zealand, Mexico, Indonesia and Thailand for Verizon International (previously Bell Atlantic International Wireless) and Telecom New Zealand. In addition, Marshall was an electrical engineer at BHP New Zealand Steel before he attended graduate school. He has a PhD degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and is a Senior Member of the IEEE.

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