The promise of cloud radio access network (C-RAN) technology has always been great, but what was needed was the support of one of the major radio and base station original equipment manufacturers. After all, for the last three decades or so, mobile operators have purchased outdoor RAN equipment for a specific market from a single vendor, because the interfaces between the various RAN components are not generally open.
When small cell architectures were first discussed, many believed that those architectures would open up the RAN to other vendors. But when it came to implementation, the same proprietary interfaces were still there, and the outdoor small cell vendors were all forced to look for new markets in-building. As a result, the Long Term Evolution (LTE) RAN market consisted of the same RAN vendors. After a series of mergers and acquisitions, we are now left with five vendors who operate globally: Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung and ZTE. All are stronger or weaker in various markets, and the vast majority of operators buy RAN equipment from one or more of these vendors. Some operators (usually operating in rural markets) have deployed other vendors for specific markets; Vanu is a good example.
Virtualization of the mobile network has started with the core and slowly expanded outward toward the RAN. The RAN is generally seen as the last part of the network to be virtualized, with the deployment of a virtual baseband unit (vBBU) and radio using off-the-shelf components with open interfaces. Just as virtualization has reduced the cost of deploying and maintaining an Evolved Packet Core (EPC), so the goal is the same for the RAN — reduced capital expense (capex) and operating expense (opex).
xRAN, a membership organization named after extensible RAN (xRAN), provides a good example of the current work going on in RAN virtualization. The goal of the industry group is simply to develop, standardize and promote a software-based, extensible RAN and to standardize critical elements of the extensible RAN architecture. xRAN members include some of the biggest and most advanced operators in the industry: AT&T Mobility, Deutsche Telekom, Telstra, Verizon Wireless and SK Telecom. Note that these operators have been pushing virtualization hard and are also moving ahead to 5G as quickly as possible. xRAN vendor members include Intel, Cisco, Mavenir, Amdocs and others.
What has been missing industry groups involved in the open C-RAN debate is the involvement of the big RAN OEMs. Without one or more of the big vendors willing to move to an open C-RAN architecture, there is little chance of getting C-RAN deployed meaningfully into the major markets for outdoor cells.
So now the big news: Nokia has joined xRAN. The Finnish company has been working behind the scenes for a few months and has now executed all the necessary paperwork (and, I assume, has written a check for the dues).
When I discussed this news with someone in the industry, their first reaction was skepticism, because the major OEMs have joined similar virtualization and open forums in the past, only to use the opportunity as a fact-finding exercise without making any changes in their strategy or the openness of their products. But having spent a week in December in Finland at Nokia’s industry analyst event, I concluded that Nokia is sincere: The company has made a big move to cloud architectures using open interfaces, and xRAN is the latest development with this strategy. In short, it does not appear that Nokia is simply in this to sit back and listen, but to contribute to the forum and move toward open RAN interfaces as quickly as possible.
It is also worth remembering that building, optimizing and operating radio networks is always harder than it appears. Although some people draw comparisons to Wi-Fi, LTE and soon-to-come 5G are completely different animals. 5G will support network slicing and prioritization of traffic. All cellular networks hand off between cells to (hopefully) maintain the connection. These all add complexity to the network and operators. As such, Nokia and its major OEM competitors have considerable experience and expertise building and operating networks, expertise that will be as valuable as it has ever been as the industry moves to 5G.
Nokia is unlikely to lose its place in the industry simply because the company is moving to open RAN interfaces. With open architectures and virtualized 5G networks, there are considerable opportunities for network analytics, optimization and professional services. There will be no shortage of things to do.
The question now is, assuming this initiative is successful and continues to make progress, what will Samsung, Huawei, ZTE and Ericsson do. Nokia’s move has put pressure on the other OEMs to follow suit, if not by joining xRAN, then at least by demonstrating a viable, open RAN architecture. 2018 is going to be interesting.
Read the rest of the March AGL Magazine HERE.
Iain Gillott is the founder and president of iGR, a market strategy consultancy focused on the wireless and mobile communications industry. The company researches and analyzes the effect new wireless and mobile technologies will have on the industry, on vendors’ competitive positioning and on its clients’ strategic business plans. Visit www.igr-inc.com.
Last week ExteNet Systems announced that it has deployed a Part 96-ready fixed wireless LTE-based network for Peak Internet, which provides broadband internet services to residential, small business, enterprise and government customers in Colorado Springs and Pike’s Peak.
ExteNet deployed a software-based distributed evolved packet core (EPC) with Nokia’s Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS)-ready LTE radios on the premises of Peak Internet to enable the service over the licensed 3.65 GHz band with a future, software-only upgrade path to the 3.5 GHz CBRS band. The deployment includes a will support future mobile roaming services for Tier 1 providers.
It is not ExteNet’s first foray into fixed wireless. Last September, it announced a similar deployment with a Cal.net, which provides broadband Internet services to rural communities in the Sierra Nevada foothills ranging from the northeast to the southeast of Sacramento.
In the past WISPs had to depend on WiMAX, Wi-Fi and some other proprietary wireless technologies, operating in the Part 90 spectrum. But things are changing for these mostly small, rural operators as LTE becomes more pervasive and affordable.
Five or six years ago, ExteNet, which is known for distributed antenna systems and distributed network systems, began mapping out what would be the next area of growth beyond the booms in wireless coverage and capacity. The next phase would be functionality, they decided.
“We needed typical core functionality to be distributed closer to the edge of the network,” said Tormod Larsen, ExteNet chief technology officer. “It couldn’t be based on expensive proprietary hardware, so we found a partner to develop a flexible software-based solution that resides on standard hardware platforms. We went to the rural markets with this scalable, software-driven effective packet core to enable WISPs and other operators to develop their LTE networks.” Additionally, a radio access network (RAN) vendor neutral approach was chosen, allowing the customer to choose its preferred RAN vendor.
ExteNet is making LTE more affordable by offering it on an infrastructure-as-a-service basis, distributing intelligence and control to the internet at the edge of the network and not in a carrier’s centralized core. ExteNet typically partners with the operator and offers them an economical avenue to purchase the EPC and the RAN equipment as an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) solution.
“The management platforms for Ericsson and Nokia can be expensive,” Larsen said. “ExteNet invests in the technology and requires long-term agreements from its customers. We spread the cost over multiple customers.”
ExteNet Systems Partners with Illinois Valley Cellular to Enable 4G LTE Connectivity
ExteNet’s game plan goes well beyond wireless internet service providers to bring enhanced broadband wireless connectivity to rural cellular carriers and building owners. Last October, the ExteNet announced a partnership with Illinois Valley Cellular (IVC) to enable 4G LTE broadband connectivity for north central Illinois.
ExteNet’s localized packet core served as a replacement to IVC’s hosted core approach, which greatly reduced backhaul costs and reduced latency by up to 75 percent. Additionally, it will eventually support mobile roaming services for Tier 1 providers while being 5G ready.
“Our combined EPC with our small cell and distributed network technology will help rural carriers compete with the tier-one carriers from a cost perspective,” Larsen said.
In the future, Larsen thinks the IaaS business model the virtual EPC will allow ExteNet to market CBRS private LTE systems to building owners in-building wireless systems or municipalities for IoT applications.
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence.
Dali Wireless launched the second-generation Dali Matrix Virtual Fronthaul Interface (vFI) at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, which allows any baseband to be routed to any remote radio unit. The product, which follows the trend for open RAN to be a component of 5G networks, will be trialed by major operators in the United States and globally later this year.
“While the applications and use cases of 5G are no doubt very exciting, it is important to remember that 5G is yet another network rollout for mobile network operators,” said Nick Marshall, Research Director, ABI Research. “Having the ability to connect any baseband unit to any remote radio unit, regardless of vendor and fronthaul protocol is a very important step to unbundling the RAN and creating the more flexible and open RAN essential for 5G’s success.”
An open RAN eliminates vendor lock-in and reduces total cost of ownership. Any-to-Any fronthaul connectivity also contributes to send-to-end network slicing, and helps operators migrate to 5G networks in a more cost-effective and efficient way while providing maximum investment protection for legacy networks.
“Cost has always been the Achilles’ heel for any network rollout. At a time when 4G infrastructure expansion continues to grow and 5G hardware is set to drive up CAPEX even further, operators need an open, and cost-effective way to manage the requirements of the countless use cases 5G is set to deliver,” said Albert Lee, CEO of Dali Wireless.
Virtual fronthaul will make radio resource configuration and allocation both dynamic and dynamic. vFI’s on-demand routing is designed to deliver capacity improvements, and new spectrum bands and operators can be added incrementally with each operator getting its own management domain and software enabling remote configuration. The Dali vFI works with any transport protocol so operators may continue to use their current equipment.
“Vendor and protocol agnostic signal routing in the fronthaul is an important step to unbundling the RAN and creating a more flexible open framework needed for 5G. Dali’s vFI supports translation between different protocols including CPRI, eCPRI, RoE, and Ethernet enabling seamless communication between RAN elements provided by different vendors,” Lee said.
American Tower and Philips Lighting will provide mobile connectivity, LED lighting and smart city with the newly developed Smart Fusion Poles. Designed to meet capacity challenges in dense, busy areas in the United States, the Smart Fusion Pole provides the infrastructure necessary for wireless broadband connectivity in an aesthetically designed, energy efficient street light pole that is designed to blends into the urban landscape. When Smart Fusion Poles are deployed, the City of Huntington Beach will be the first city in the country to use this shared wireless infrastructure smart pole technology.
American Tower’s agreement with the City of Huntington Beach provides exclusive access to 200 existing light pole locations for the deployment of Smart Fusion Poles. These locations are situated predominantly along the Pacific Highway and downtown areas, close to restaurants and retail establishments.
“We want to be a leader in smart city initiatives to provide residents, businesses and visitors a better city experience and quality of life,” said City of Huntington Beach Mayor Mike Posey. “Equally important is the ability to maintain the aesthetics of this beautiful seaside city I call home. That’s why I am excited about the Smart Fusion Pole; it provides the connectivity required for our smart city initiatives without sacrificing the beauty and vista of our city.”
The Smart Fusion Pole includes integrated antennas that are concealed and can support services from multiple mobile operators on a single pole. The pole is optimized for small cell deployment to help solve today’s network challenges, while its plug-and-play design provides future-ready access for next-generation technologies, such as 5G and the Internet of Things. Integrated with Philips Hadco and Philips Lumec LED luminaires respectively, the Smart Fusion Poles will also provide high quality and energy efficient light to further enhance the spaces where the poles are installed.
“Philips Lighting is known for combining high quality, energy efficient LED lighting with cutting-edge technology to help city leaders transform how they operate, manage resources and improve services to their citizens,” said Roger Karner, head of Market U.S. at Philips Lighting. “With the Smart Fusion Pole, you don’t have to worry about losing your smart phone signal and the light quality is second to none. This new technology amplifies our position as the lighting company for the IoT.”
A wave of DAS systems for in-building use is making a splash at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, this week, as the wireless industry continues to try to break into the enterprise space. The new products feature all-digital technology and 100-percent fiber optics, as well as virtualization and centralized RANs. The products are also smaller and use less electricity.
Among the OEMs showing off new products are CommScope with its Era all-digital C-RAN antenna system, Zinwave with its UNItivity 5000 DAS solution and JMA Wireless with its XRAN fully-virtualized adaptive baseband software. Additionally, Cobham Wireless has integrated vRAN (virtualized radio access networks) capabilities into its idDAS (intelligent digital DAS).
OEMs are expanding their market from wireless users to include serve the internet of things and smart buildings applications, as well as public safety. But there are many impediments to DAS in the enterprise. One of them being price. The latest wave of DAS equipment is smaller and less expensive. According to Josh Adelson, marketing director, CommScope, DAS is following the same trends occurring in the outdoor wireless space.
“It’s about finding a way to deliver in-building wireless in a way that is consistent with the approach the operators are taking,” Adelson said. “The main technical step forward is allowing the signal source to be located in the operator’s C-RAN rather than in the building.”
DAS OEMs are also taking using virtualization to replicate the features of a proprietary base station in software that is run on a commercially available hardware platform.
CommScope Era is an all-digital C-RAN antenna system that leverages wireless operators’ initiatives to centralize and virtualize baseband radio assets. The centralized headend serves multiple buildings, as well as tapping capacity from existing C-RAN hubs.
“The C-RAN allows an operator to manage a pool of resources within its own facility and allocate them on a dynamic basis, as well as to easily maintain them,” Adelson said. “From the building owner’s point of view, not having the head-end within their facility allows them to lease out the space the headend would have inhabited.”
Era features a new family of access points that are available in a range of power levels, with copper and fiber connectivity and outdoor and plenum ratings, to serve a wide variety of venue types. It supports interleaved MIMO (multiple input/multiple output).
For more information on the Era, CLICK HERE
Zinwave has enhanced the energy efficiency of the UNItivity solutions’ hardware. Depending on the scope and complexity of the DAS configuration, an enterprise may see up to 17 percent energy savings.
Another update to UNItivity 5000 is the redesign of the secondary hub that adds 80 percent space savings in the IT closet. The streamlined design also integrates the power supply unit into the hub itself, which aids IT staff in procuring an external power supply while providing additional space savings.
“We are driving toward simplicity, improving aesthetics, lower total cost of ownership,” said Slavko Djukic, Zinwave Chief Technology Officer. “When you look at the total cost of ownership model including power usage and space usage, we believe we have made some significant improvements.”
For more information about the UNItivity 5000, CLICK HERE
JMA Wireless has virtualized 100 percent of its RAN with software with the XRAN Adaptive Baseband, which provides all of the RAN functions necessary for LTE mobile and IoT connectivity.
“Full virtualization of the entire stack has been elusive due to the complexity of the technology,” said Joe Madden, president of Mobile Experts. “XRAN has delivered full virtualization and gives operators a more flexible, low-cost platform they can control. This opens the door for MNOs and enterprises – providing an opportunity for enterprises to invest in solutions to provide coverage for their venues.”
The XRAN software platform integrates with the TEKO RF Distribution platform via high capacity digital fiber connectivity, eliminating layers of analog equipment and cabling and reducing the footprint, power and cooling requirements.
“Cost, simplicity, footprint, power, and cooling changes dramatically with XRAN,” said Todd Landry, VP of product and market strategy at JMA Wireless. “XRAN is designed from its inception to close the gap between rapidly growing in-building mobile connectivity demands and today’s complex, proprietary hardware solutions unable to evolve and adapt for multi-operator services.”
For more information about XRAN, CLICK HERE
Cobham Wireless as designed the next generation of the intelligent digital DAS (idDAS) with a direct connection to the network core and virtualized capabilities. The latest idDAS supports both C-RAN architectures and vRAN architectures, replacing baseband units with commercial off-the-shelf technology and virtualized software.
“Operators are facing a capacity challenge, and with more people using high-bandwidth services and the number of IoT applications growing, this will only increase,” said Rami Hasarchi, VP Coverage, Cobham Wireless. “Virtualising the RAN for in-building coverage offers the ideal solution to this problem, maximizing spectrum efficiency and end-user experience, while vastly reducing running costs.”
For more information about the idDAS CLICKE HERE