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open RAN

Open RAN platform acceleration needed to deliver on operator expectations

It is clear from a recent Heavy Reading survey that wireless network operators are expecting Open RAN to deliver wireless performance and achieve significant reductions in both capex and opex costs. This will not be achieved without hardware acceleration for key network functions. Hardware acceleration is particularly important for Layer 1 processing, significantly reducing power consumption, lowering the CPU processing capacity required in COTS servers supporting Open RAN deployments and increasing wireless network performance.

Open RAN solutions will need hardware acceleration

The new Heavy Reading Accelerating Open RAN Platforms Operator Survey published in May 2021 presents the results of an exclusive survey of individuals working for operators with mobile network businesses. When asked "What is the primary driver for Open RAN acceleration within your organization?," the leading answers were "server cost savings," "power issues" and "RU+DU system raw performance." We also asked how important hardware accelerators are in x86 servers for vRAN applications. 85% said hardware accelerators are important or critical for all sites and 89% said they are important or critical for high-capacity sites. These results support Heavy Reading's analysis that Open RAN solutions will need hardware acceleration if they are to achieve the expected performance and the expected cost savings from the deployment of Open RAN.

"We see very good performance for traditional CPU and COTS server on the Layer 2 and above, and the need for acceleration on the Layer 1 where really the performance of the CPU cores is not really good in doing 5G baseband, physical layer functionality." said Gerardo Giaretta, senior director of product management at Qualcomm Technologies, when he spoke on the Light Reading Accelerating Open RAN Platforms Operator Survey webinar (view the archive here).

In the survey, Heavy Reading asked respondents how much cost savings, in terms of both capex and opex, they expect to achieve through the adoption and deployment of an Open RAN network. The results shown below suggest that the industry is mostly expecting savings in both capex and opex of 10% to 25% through the adoption and deployment of Open RAN networks. A significant majority (56%) expect savings in opex of between 10% and 25%. Approximately one-fifth (19%) expect savings of less than 10% and a slightly higher percentage (23%) expect opex savings of 26% to 50%. The results for capex are very similar, with fewer (51%) expecting savings of between 10% and 25% and slightly more (21%) expecting savings of less than 10%.

How much cost savings, in terms of both capex and opex, do you expect to achieve through the adoption and deployment of an Open RAN network?

(Source: Heavy Reading)
(Source: Heavy Reading)

Layer 1 hardware acceleration will be required for most Open RAN deployments. COTS servers without hardware acceleration can be used for Open RAN networks with a small number of users. But as the number of users and traffic load rises, the number of CPU cores being used grows significantly, requiring additional servers and increasing capex and opex costs. Deploying the right level of hardware acceleration will be critical in delivering the performance and cost savings expected by carriers.

Heavy Reading's Accelerating Open RAN Platforms Operator Survey focuses on why operators are deploying Open RAN and which platform architectures, hardware accelerators and software and integration solutions are viewed as most important for these deployments. You can download a PDF copy here.

Simon Stanley, Analyst at Large, Heavy Reading

This blog is sponsored by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

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