What Will the RAN Look Like in 10 Years?

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) international standardization group is hosting a special meeting this week to discuss the future requirements for the radio access network (RAN) over the next 10 years.

This will be the first time that the standards body has convened such a session or attempted to take a longer-term, strategic view on the development of RAN technology, Light Reading Mobile has learned. The exercise may help the group to plan future projects, but as it is an unusual approach, it also suggests just how radical and complex the changes that loom for mobile broadband networks are. (See MWC 2011: The End of the RAN as We Know It? )

The meeting is happening this week in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and is scheduled to coincide with the group's other regular RAN meetings. Participating vendors or operators will have a chance to pitch their vision for the RAN, from which the group can create an overview of how the industry thinks mobile networks will evolve to deliver broadband connectivity while making best use of operators' finite spectrum resources.

Subjects raised at the event could apply to work scheduled for the 3GPP's Release 12 set of specifications or beyond (the group has just finished work on Release 10). Examples of what is likely to be talked about could include distributed architectures like Cloud RAN, antenna concepts and modulation schemes.

The transformation of the RAN has already begun with the advent of small cells and Heterogeneous Networks (Het Nets). Prime examples are products like Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU)'s lightRadio or Nokia Networks 's Flexi Zone, as well as industry moves like Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) 's acquisition of carrier Wi-Fi specialist BelAir Networks Inc. . (See Get Hip to the HetNet, It's a Small World After All ... and Ericsson CTO Talks BelAir Buy.)

With such changes already underway, it's not surprising that a group like the 3GPP would want to pause and get to grips with where the RAN is running off to in the future.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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