Open RAN – A Future-Proof and Cost Effective LTE and 5G Network Architecture

5G will accelerate the variety and volume of data traffic further shattering constrained legacy service delivery models and impacting network economics. Many new services will emerge on the 5G network the same way Uber, Facebook and Instagram emerged after LTE deployment. Mobile operators face the technical test of squeezing more data into a much faster and more efficient, yet less expensive, pipe while ARPUs are dropping rapidly.

The network economics clearly need to change. Looking to solve the problem, many operators are turning to alternative architectures that drastically reduce their capex and opex costs. The shift towards software-based technology and end-to-end virtualization opens the door to new automated, faster-to-deploy, and less-expensive technology options. While networks today have been limited by walled garden technologies, the new and forming Open RAN ecosystem provides a solid foundation for greatly improved network economics with a vendor agnostic ecosystem of open source components, software, hardware, radios, and open interfaces.

A key component for such a future-proof network is the Virtualized RAN (vRAN) – a key virtualized application of the Open RAN ecosystem – with architecture and interfaces that are already fully specified and open, and supported by the top global mobile operators.

vRAN features the separation of RAN baseband processing unit (BBU) hardware from software, defined practical demarcation points, as well as standardized open interface in BBU protocol stacks. A future-proof vRAN BBU (vBBU) consists of the functional modules of the Distributed Unit (DU) which handles real-time baseband processing, and Central Unit (CU) which handles non-real-time baseband processing functions. vRAN enables and presents multi-fold benefits:

  • Hardware flexibility and lower cost, higher availability, and reliability through the adoption of Commercial-Off-the-Shelf (COTS) hardware, high-performance computing, storage, networking processors.
  • Agile and much less costly deployment of new features and upgrades through VNF and SDN implementations of network functionalities and applications.
  • Easy and intelligent provisioning and management of network through orchestration and big data analysis.

With existing backhaul, carriers can easily reap the benefit of reducing costs by aggregating /pooling CUs at centralized locations and away from the location-constrained RRUs, and thus the hardware footprint and the actual number of units can be reduced. With sufficient backhaul bandwidth today or the future upgrade of backhaul bandwidth, carriers can further reduce costs by aggregation of DUs at some hub locations.

On top of the TCO benefits available by adopting vRAN, Open RAN also promises the following benefits:

  • Reduces vendor lock-in with possibility to run multi vRAN applications
  • Ability to run multiple applications on the DU
  • Minimize RAN inventory
  • Lower maintenance and support costs
  • Single test for RAN nodes eliminating the operator lab testing
  • Merchant chip sets to replace proprietary designs

vRAN standards enable a future-proofed network performance compared to the prior generation RAN architecture:

  • vBBUs can be much smarter acting as the brain for multiple RRUs. The baseband processing centralization enables dynamic RAN adaptation.
  • Lower cost RRUs for network densification
  • Multiple radio designs to cater to a variety of use cases, with advanced MIMO, beamforming, and other technologies

vRAN topology embodies the general trends towards cloud computing, edge computing, and software-defined radio– it is here to stay.

Mavenir is a pioneer in Open RAN and vRAN solutions with its comprehensive portfolio of virtualized network elements, including vBBU, RRHs and Centralized Element Manager and Analytics Server which support 4G LTE, 5G and all major global frequency bands. Mavenir is focused on making the adoption of Open RAN vRAN as easy as possible and cost effective as the smart investment in the future.

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