Six benefits of virtualized RAN

Key findings from Heavy Reading's Open RAN Platforms and Architectures Operator Survey Report indicate that improved economies of scale for generic hardware and the independent upgradability of HW/SW components are the most critical benefits of vRAN for service providers. #sponsored

Simon Stanley

March 22, 2023

4 Min Read
Six benefits of virtualized RAN

The disaggregation of software and hardware via the deployment of a virtualized RAN (vRAN) can deliver significant benefits to both service providers and users. 5G has been designed to support vRAN, and the open RAN specifications are based on vRAN architectures. The use of vRAN and open interfaces enables a sustainable solution based on common server platforms with considerable deployment flexibility and scalability that can take advantage of the latest industry innovations.

To find out more about how service providers view the benefits of vRAN and how they plan to deploy vRAN and open RAN platforms and architectures for 5G networks, Heavy Reading ran an exclusive survey of individuals working for operators with mobile network businesses. The results are presented in an analyst report, Open RAN Platforms and Architectures Operator Survey Report, that can be downloaded for free here.

The survey presented six benefits of vRAN and asked respondents to rank them as critical, important, somewhat important, or not important. 113 individuals working for operators with mobile network businesses gave responses, with more than 80% ranking each benefit as either critical or important.

Improved economies of scale and independent upgradability

The highest-ranked benefit was improved economies of scale for generic hardware, with 35% saying this was critical and 95% saying it was critical or important. The use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) server systems removes the need for proprietary systems to implement the distributed unit (DU) and allows service providers to deploy generic hardware for both the DU and centralized unit (CU). Further economies of scale can be achieved by using the same server systems to host the vRAN software and other network edge applications or to host the DU for different service providers in a shared edge location.

The independent upgradability of hardware and software components was ranked as critical by 32% of respondents. Wireless network specifications and industry best practices are continually being developed. By deploying the vRAN, service providers can implement new capabilities and deliver enhanced services more quickly. That is, they can often upgrade virtual functions in software more quickly than they can upgrade embedded functions in proprietary systems. Where additional performance is needed, server platforms can be upgraded with additional CPU cores without changing the software.

Figure 1: How would you rank the main benefits of virtualized RAN? n=113 Source: Heavy Reading n=113
Source: Heavy Reading

vRAN and edge cloud Integration

The use of a shared edge cloud infrastructure for vRAN can enable greater power efficiency and the lowest cost of ownership by running many functions on a shared hardware platform. The edge cloud infrastructure can also host other network functionality that benefits from being close to the user, such as firewalls, content delivery network caching and hosting, and artificial intelligence (AI). Power consumption is a key focus for many operators, and energy efficiency was seen as a critical benefit of vRAN by 31% of respondents. The last three benefits of vRAN covered by this question in the survey were seen as critical by approximately one-quarter of respondents. Where a cloud native implementation is used for the shared edge cloud, including vRAN, the sharing of resources can be more dynamic and benefit from automation enabled with AI. The greater flexibility facilitated by vRAN and cloud native implementations allows service providers to benefit from rapid feature evolution and leverage the ecosystem of suppliers who are bringing new innovations to the market.

To deliver all six benefits of vRAN, service providers need to select the best platform solution. Solution maturity, ease of use and cost were seen as critical by more than 35% of respondents when asked to rank six items based on the level of importance when selecting an open RAN/vRAN platform solution. The full results are included in the analyst report.

Heavy Reading's Open RAN Platforms and Architectures Operator Survey Report 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 Intel Corp.

About the Author(s)

Simon Stanley

Simon Stanley is Founder and Principal Consultant at Earlswood Marketing Ltd., an independent market analyst and consulting company based in the U.K. His work has included investment due diligence, market analysis for investors, and business/product strategy for semiconductor companies. Simon has written extensively for Heavy Reading and Light Reading. His reports and Webinars cover a variety of communications-related subjects, including LTE, Policy Management, SDN/NFV, IMS, ATCA, 100/400G optical components, multicore processors, switch chipsets, network processors, and optical transport. He has also run several Light Reading events covering Next Generation network components and ATCA.

Prior to founding Earlswood Marketing, Simon spent more than 15 years in product marketing and business management. He has held senior positions with Fujitsu, National Semiconductor, and U.K. startup ClearSpeed, covering networking, personal systems, and graphics in Europe, North America, and Japan. Simon has spent over 30 years in the electronics industry, including several years designing CPU-based systems, before moving into semiconductor marketing. In 1983, Stanley earned a Bachelor's in Electronic and Electrical Engineering from Brunel University, London.

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