Can Cloud RAN Help Lessen the Spectrum Crunch?

When it comes to spectrum for 5G, regulators and industry are leaving no stone unturned. It's not hard to see why.

Sure, early 5G standards work achieved 22 times more spectral efficiency than 4G. But global mobile data traffic grew another 63% last year, according to Cisco's Visual Networking Index. And expectations are that mobile data volumes will continue to grow massively, with no end in sight. It's hard to envision any time in which there will be an oversupply of spectrum.

That's why new bands as high as 95GHz, licensed and unlicensed, are either under consideration or already being prepped for cellular to move in. T-Mobile USA, for example, plans to deploy 5G at 600MHz beginning in 2019.

Cloud radio access networks (C-RANs) will help operators use a wider variety of both bands and air interfaces. For example, C-RAN architecture enables basestation radios to support multiple air interface generations (4G and 5G) simultaneously and in ways that minimize capacity-sapping interference between them. This concept sometimes is referred to as spectrum cloudification.

Another example is maximizing capacity in a given area -- say, a city -- by providing more tools for minimizing interference between basestations. C-RAN makes it easier to coordinate those neighboring sites' use of spectrum and power, which translates into better service quality. These tools also could reduce the cost and time of building and expanding networks by helping with site selection, including making do with less-than-ideal locations when those are all that zoning boards and citizens will allow.

Spectrum cloudification has several business benefits. One example is 3G and 4G Internet of Things (IoT) devices designed to remain in service for the better part of a decade. Spectrum cloudification helps operators continue to get revenue from those legacy applications by supporting them cost-effectively alongside 5G users.

A second potential benefit is greater control over service quality and user experiences. For example, operators would have more tools for dynamically allocating spectrum resources as traffic loads change. That could help ensure mission-critical applications always get the bandwidth and priority they need.

Yet another business benefit is less pressure to buy additional licensed spectrum, whether that's at auction or by acquiring another operator. Both options are expensive. With C-RAN, operators have more tools for shoehorning more customers into spectrum they already own, including by shuffling them around as part of refarming. And with mobile traffic showing no signs of plateauing anytime soon, it's the kind of capability operators can't get soon enough.

This blog is sponsored by Huawei.

— Tim Kridel, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading

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