BY Renuka Bhalerao
There is agreement in the telecom industry that the future of wireless networks is “5G.” However, ask anyone in the industry to define 5G and you’ll get many different answers. As the industry works out what the next-gen of wireless technology will ultimately encompass, Radisys is beginning to see early glimmers of what a 5G world will look like. In our opinion, 5G is about optimizing and making the entire mobile network more efficient, and that starts with functionality in the radio access network migrating into the telecom cloud.
Mobile operators are turning to the cloud to realize the same benefits that the enterprise data center has reaped – scalability, efficiency, and lower capital and operating expenses. Software-defined networking and network functions virtualization are two virtualization technologies that will play a crucial role in 5G, bringing changes from the RAN to the evolved packet core.
On the RAN side of the network, the emergence of the cloud concept with software-defined radio technology allows the decoupling of the radio heads from the baseband units. This decoupling enables mobile operators to shift many of the base station functions into VNFs and thus easily scale their networks up and down as needed, while maintaining low latency and throughput performance. On the core side of the network, NFV will be deployed as a first step toward 5G.
Bringing the cloud concept to the RAN is an important step for mobile operators as they seek cost-effective and efficient ways to address network strain. The cloud RAN, or C-RAN, is focused on virtualizing the RAN, as well as on consolidating resources to provide the same functionality that small cells have brought to the compact base station in a more efficient and resourceful way.
In a C-RAN architecture, the software is separated from the underlying hardware, with almost all software functions hosted on a general purpose processor. In a 5G future, we’ll see a diminishing demand for specialized hardware as software takes center stage and virtualized base stations become the norm. Radisys recently partnered with ASOCS to deliver a complete virtualized base station solution that allows mobile operators to increase capacity and reduce total cost of ownership.
In this new virtualized environment, small cells will continue to remain an important component of the network, complementing the shift to a C-RAN environment. Within this C-RAN architecture, coordination among small cells and adjacent base stations happens in a much more efficient central pool. Cloud architectures are also well suited for implementing coordinated multipoint and carrier aggregation, mitigating interference among small cells and providing increased capacity. The Small Cell Forum kicked off work last summer to address network virtualization for small cells with its next release that is scheduled for June 2015.
Mobile operators are already moving the cloud-RAN from the lab to pilot deployments, and are looking at how to trial the virtualized core network simultaneously with the virtualized base station. C-RAN is what the “5G RAN” will ultimately embrace.