vRAN architecture improves flexibility and lowers total cost of ownership
Virtualization of network functions is helping operators decrease network-related capex and opex by replacing expensive, proprietary solutions with software that can run on off-the-shelf hardware. As it relates to the radio access network, a vRAN architecture centralizes baseband unit functions using virtual machines, which enables better scalability, inter-site coordination and pooling of radio resources. In terms of site acquisition, vRAN smooths that process by decreasing the physical footprint; this usually decreases upfront investment and speeds time-to-market.
In parallel with the move to virtualization is centralization of physical network equipment, referred to as a C-RAN. Given the benefits of vRAN, DAS vendors have embraced the trend and adjusted their product portfolios to include virtualized solutions.
In the run-up to Mobile World Congress, CommScope announced its new Era digital C-RAN antenna system, which includes a Wide-area Integration Node that sits at the C-RAN hub and directs capacity to radio units. According to CommScope, “Era allocates baseband capacity where it is needed while reducing the amount of onsite head-end equipment and the amount of fiber needed for signal transport by up to 90%.”
Matt Melester, SVP of distributed coverage and capacity solutions, said the new solution “upends the economics of in-building wireless,” and noted how the virtualization aspect serves as a “key enabler for network densification in LTE Advanced, gigabit LTE and 5G.”
Cobham Wireless recently announced integration of its intelligent, digital distributed antenna system (idDAS) with C-RAN and vRAN architectures; the company said the resulting product provides cost and energy efficiencies, and easily scale with plug-and-play equipment.
“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,” Cobham VP of Coverage Rami Hasarchi said. “Virtualizing 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. Integrating vRAN capabilities into our idDAS is an exciting step forward on the road to 5G, delivering flexibility to operators and enterprises, and a means of future-proofing their businesses.”
SOLiD Americas was an early-mover on vRAN with its Genesis RAX. It includes hardware technology, a cloud-based platform and a new innovation the company calls a capacity exchange application. The company said the multi-band vRAN signal source solution will enable enterprise customers to cost-effectively operate their own in-building networks with connections to multiple mobile networks.
Addressing the enterprise space where carriers are slow to invest in in-building wireless is a key goal of the move to cheaper, virtualized, centralized DAS solutions. “The enterprise is now at a point where they’re willing to spend on those things,” said Ken Sandfeld, president of SOLiD Americas, during the Verizon Technology User Forum event. “And Verizon is looking for solutions that will make that possible.” Carriers don’t have the budget to build a DAS in every building that wants one, but if the building owner will pay for a system, the customer stays happy and the carrier increases its coverage.