Towards the Virtualization of the RAN

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The topic of virtualized RAN is broad.  It has been an objective for several years.  The open RAN, or LTE 4G Open RAN Initiative, is a bit oxymoronic: the virtualization of the network from the perspective of mobile operator’s and other providers customers are concerned is mostly standardized already.  Verizon, AT&T and other operators around the world build their captive networks using the common open standards framework as cloud and wired network providers.  The wireless operators have their own private networks that, although based on 3GPP/5GPP standards have been implemented with suppliers in unique ways.  The shared access capabilities within 4G-5G does provide the ability, for example, for enterprise or government clients to build out campus or single buildings captive networks that must be able to fit into their HFC, hybrid fiber-cable, or wireless service providers networks including compatibility with virtualization, signalling, and security.
There are various topics within this: How enterprise networks fit mobile broadband including Gigabit wireless into their virtualized/cloud and internal/VPN networks. How the wireless providers consolidate services – and will they become the most likely providers of aggregated service contracts as 5G rolls out? Is the market likely to have more alternatives due to competition between wired and wireless BB or will the market tend to consolidate in favor of the wireless suppliers due to the scale, national coverage, and technical prowess?  What does this mean for independent WBB service providers and systems/services integrators?

Virtualization offers several advantages to network operators: they can strategize their selection of equipment and vendors on the basis of value, performance and compatibility, as has already been the case, to build networks based on virtualized service offerings.  That may, evolve toward delivery of services on the RAN being offered through Amazon and other cloud service providers. However, where the cloud providers currently need to be concerned about virtualization within captive environments of server facilities tied into fiber optic. The offering of virtualized service over RAN has the much higher degree of variation due to difficulties of the real-world in-site deployment environments.

We are still at early stages of having this move from standards development to growing of networks and markets.  The RAN operators will be attempting to quantify their service offerings of the ‘sliced’ virtualized network so that it can be provided to broader markets in a standardized way similar to the ‘container’ virtual servers offered by cloud server providers.

The virtualized RAN unveils opportunities to fashion tailored service level agreements.  What pops into my head are things like an operator, Verizon for example, offering a training company to provide secure service for a training event within a company complex – it would not use the company’s own network and, thus, would not have to be as difficult for the training firms client.  And the service would be capable of supporting virtual-reality headsets with multiple streams of user-generated content and training video content and game-play content.  That general scenario could be extended to medial and other applications.

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Robert Syputa, BSEE, MBA, is a Senior ICT industry analyst with 28 years experience in the field of electronics, computing and telecommunications. His understanding of these fields stems from the study of patents and baseline research. The technologies and applications methods has led to breakthrough understanding in the emerging fields of Next Generation Mobile Networks and convergence of IT and communications spheres of business. Robert’s experience includes applications engineering and marketing for leading companies in the fields including Philips, Fairchild, Honeywell, GE-Druck, Boeing. He has participated in IEEE and 3G-5G standards efforts and consulted with leading component, equipment and service providers. Robert authors reports on 4G-5G wireless and its impacts on IT/networking, mobile eCommerce, patents, and industry convergence.

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