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Ericsson Revamps Its RAN With RBS 6000 Successor

As part of its pre-MWC news blast, Ericsson announces the successor to its highly successful base station and talks small cells, analytics, backhaul and more.

February 19, 2015

8 Min Read
Ericsson Revamps Its RAN With RBS 6000 Successor

Ericsson laid out the rump of its Mobile World Congress agenda early Thursday with a swathe of product and strategy announcements that includes a portfolio shift that will be of interest to hundreds of mobile operators worldwide.

The highlight is the update to its radio access network (RAN) portfolio, but there were other interesting announcements too that set the tone for the Swedish giant's presence at the Barcelona event.

It's all about the base (station)
Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) has been very successful with its multi-mode RBS 6000 base station technology for the past six or so years and now it is following that with its Radio System, with what it claims is a more efficient and certainly more physically compact offer, including a new way of mounting small base station units on a (supplied) rail with just one bolt for fixing that could boost the potential capacity from one tower/mast by as much as five times, claims the vendor.

The way base station units are fixed to poles may sound rather dull, but it's the kind of logistical and operational change that can have a major impact on radio network planning and improve the efficiency of mobile network engineering and maintenance teams, which can have a major impact on operational costs. In addition, the smaller size also increases the number of locations where radio access equipment could potentially be located, which is especially important when it comes to urban coverage and adding capacity in high usage areas, though of course there are still power supply and backhaul considerations to take into account.

Figure 1: The New Rail Network The new Ericsson radio unit that slots onto a rail and is fitted with a single bolt. Does it have to be that color though? The new Ericsson radio unit that slots onto a rail and is fitted with a single bolt. Does it have to be that color though?

In addition to providing a new way to mount its technology and making its RAN units smaller by up to 50%, Ericsson is claiming to have boosted the network capacity it can offer from each unit (three times more in the same space compared with current products), to have improved the cooling capabilities (enabling operators to stack the RAN units closely together) and to have reduced power consumption requirements. It has also increased the number of form factors, offering small macro cell products (with a range of tens of kilometers) to microcells (small cells) for boosting local capacity and with a range of up to 2 kilometers.

The physical revamp is accompanied by the vendor's Networks Software 15B (2015, release B), which enables simultaneous LTE FDD and TDD operation and supports the introduction of a number of new features and applications such as the company's virtual router (plus broader support for the management of virtualized functions), voice-over-WiFi, cell sharing, IoT/M2M device management and much more.

You can read full details of the new RAN gear (available from the third quarter of this year) and the 15B release offer in the following official announcements, in which Ericsson notes that these advances are part of its roadmap towards a 5G environment:

For all of our Mobile World Congress 2015 coverage, check out the dedicated MWC show news channel here at Light Reading.

Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown, who has tracked the radio access market for more than a decade, is impressed. "We've only had a fairly quick preview of the new portfolio so far, but my immediate reaction was, 'What incredible attention to detail across the portfolio and life-cycle.' The way Ericsson has integrated advanced radio technology with the practical issues related to deployment and maintenance really stands out. In this sense it looks like a refinement of the extremely successful RBS 6000 product line. The one-bolt mounting, the air cooling, the power supply, the multiband RF modules, are all very nicely packaged. And you get the capacity gains from new hardware and new features with the 15B software release," stated Brown.

He added: "One area I'd like to understand better is how this product portfolio will support C-RAN [cloud RAN]. In terms of system architecture, Ericsson doesn’t appear to have proposed anything too radical. For example, it appears to be sticking with CPRI [Common Public Radio Interface] fronthaul, which is challenging from a transport perspective. I can see why it hasn’t adopted a so-called 'split architecture' at this stage, but given that Ericsson positions this portfolio as helping operators 'on the road to 5G,' the market will want to know more about the C-RAN options. I'd expect to see more on that at MWC," added Brown, practically inviting himself to be strapped down and smothered by technical advisors in the Ericsson "village" during the upcoming Barcelona show. (See What the [Bleep] Is Fronthaul?)

Next page: Beefing up the backhaul

Beefing up the backhaul
Ericsson has also unveiled a new range of routers, the 6000 series, that incorporates all manner of capabilities (synchronization, timing and security) needed for efficient packet transport between cell sites and the packet core. The range includes a 1RU (single rack unit/pizza box) product that has a 100GigE port, so designed to carry a lot of data traffic away from the access points. The vendor has also included SDN protocol support on the family's three routers (access, edge aggregation and metro aggregation) to meet the needs of operators that want to introduce software-defined network control to their strategies. (See Ericsson Unveils New Router Family.)

The vendor is making a big deal of the tight integration between this new range of routers and its new Radio System architecture, which is great for operators that want to build an end-to-end Ericsson network. However, many operators, particularly those that are heavily committed to SDN and NFV, are striving for multi-vendor network architectures that enable them to swap in elements from multiple suppliers.

Ericsson has also announced a virtual router offering for smaller data center deployments, noting though (like its peers) that dedicated hardware-based routing platforms are required once a certain level of traffic processing is required (which is relevant particularly for core IP backbone and metro deployments).

Rev up my analytics engine, sir!
Advanced analytics is one of the many hot topics that currently struggles to make the transition from the drawing board to the purchase order and into the back office of many communications service providers (CSPs), but there are a growing number of systems being tailored specifically for telcos to help overcome that hurdle. (See Ericsson Upgrades Its Analytics Engine.)

Ericsson's latest proposition is its Expert Analytics 15.0 system, which, claims the vendor, allows operators to "predict customer satisfaction and automatically take closed-loop actions to improve it."

The vendor says it has developed a patent-pending customer satisfaction index that helps operators to understand what features and/or metrics matter to each customer. The system, which is in pilot with four unidentified operators, could help CSPs implement real-time policy decisions (such as boosting the bandwidth available to a prime customer using a video application) or make informed marketing decisions, such as offering a new smartphone deal to a customer flagged as being unhappy with some element of their service.

It all sounds great, but Ericsson admits that the system needs highly accurate data to be able to suggest the appropriate measures and that the information that feeds into the analytics platform comes from a variety of sources, including network probes and third-party databases as well as a CSP's own OSS and BSS tools. As a result, there is no guarantee that the analytics engine is working with 100% accurate data. That's not a problem unique to Ericsson, of course, and "dirty data" has long been an unsolved issue for the industry.

"There is more data than there used to be and it is mostly accurate," noted Graham Cobb, head of global marketing for Ericsson's OSS/BSS portfolio.

Apps, transformation and video delivery
That's not the end of the Ericsson pre-MWC menu -- the remaining three offerings are:

  • Digital Telco Transformation: A combination of consulting and systems integration services built around Ericsson's now very broad range of OSS and BSS systems that aims to help CSPs improve their digital processes and systems (internal and customer-facing). This, for example, includes integrating marketing and customer experience processes across multiple existing and emerging online channels, as well as making better use of cloud and on-demand resources. (See Ericsson Offers Digital Telco Transformation .)

    • App Experience Optimization: A network optimization service tailored to specific operator requirements so that apps are delivered in the most efficient way to customers. (See Ericsson Offers App Experience Optimization .)

    • Media Delivery Network: A set of software tools aimed at helping network operators improve their media/video network efficiency (for example, through flexible caching), improve customer experience (using optimization capabilities) and enhance video delivery options, including offering ready-to-use connections to third-party content providers (OTT players). (See Ericsson Evolves Its Media Delivery Network.)

      The vendor is promising to make a few more announcements during Mobile World Congress, but it seems likely there will be a great deal of focus on exactly what benefits the vendor's new radio access products will bring to existing customers in terms of coverage, efficiency and flexibility as mobile operators start to think about how their 4G networks will develop in the next few years.

      — Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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