Virtual RAN Gets Real
In today’s increasingly connected society, mobile networks are evolving to support large numbers of devices, handle exponentially increasing traffic, and position themselves for the 5G era. To address this, the wireless industry is adopting a number of concepts, including network functions virtualization (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN). Applying these concepts to the radio access network (RAN) requires a fundamental change in basestation architecture to economically and efficiently meet the challenges of high-traffic growth and massive numbers of devices, while simultaneously satisfying the requirements of wide coverage, high capacity, and low latency. The modern RAN is evolving from traditional distributed RAN (D-RAN) and centralized RAN (C-RAN) architectures to a virtual RAN (V-RAN) architecture where many of the functions of the baseband are executed in the cloud on remote telecom data centers running commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware. These changes fundamentally alter the relationship and partitioning in the basestation between the radios, basebands, data centers, and the underlying transport or fronthaul interconnecting them. Many companies in this ecosystem are now introducing or commercializing real V-RAN products and networks, leveraging NFV and SDN. Several initiatives are also emerging in the standards area, which prepare the fronthaul protocols for these architectural changes.
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