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How Cloud-Based Radio Finally Solves a Long-Standing Mobile Challenge

Mobile means people can communicate and go online anywhere they want, at any time. Yet this fundamental capability creates one of the most difficult issues that has challenged operators for decades. That is, how to meet unpredictable traffic demand without creating excessively costly capacity across the network?

The cloud-based radio access network (RAN) is at last providing the answer. And it’s doing so at just the right moment as 5G rolls out commercially, creating exciting new capabilities such as huge bandwidth, extremely low latency and ultra-reliable communication services. The flip side is the ever-increasing network complexity, exploding data traffic volume and myriad new services that come and go in double-quick time.

Simplifying the complexity and delivering better-than-ever experiences to customers unwilling to pay much more than they do now is the conundrum facing operators today.

The cloud-based RAN decouples base station hardware and software and implements virtualized baseband processing for complete flexibility in the siting of computing operations in the network. It allows capacity to be scaled as needed to meet changing demand, while virtualizing the baseband enables computing functions to be placed at the edge of the network to respond rapidly to varying demand and deliver the lowest latencies.

Higher performance, lower costs
The benefits of the fully cloud-based RAN are many, not least a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for operators.

An analysis by Nokia shows that over a five-year period, the cloud-based RAN can provide a significantly lower TCO than a conventional network. The savings arise from several key areas, including the higher utilization of hardware through the sizing of computing resources according to average instead of peak traffic loads and the sharing of resources among different applications; greater automation for more efficient services; and significant transport network savings eg through multiplexing and dynamic traffic steering.

Fully software-controlled, cloud-based and with open interfaces that allow easy integration of AI and ML algorithms, the radio network becomes more automated. It can optimize itself to meet unpredictable demand and does so in seconds or minutes.

The cloud-based RAN also speeds up innovation, with software cycles becoming more rapid, enabling an operator to roll out new services faster.

Making it all happen
Cloud technology has been used in core networks for years. The theory behind its use in the RAN is valid, but will it work in practice? The answer is yes, as the recent Cloud RAN advancements have shown.

  • The world’s first commercially deployed cloud-based 5G radio access network went live in North America. This 5G milestone was made possible by our cloud base station, which splits traffic to ensure each connection gets the service it needs - time-critical functions are processed at the cell site by our high performance AirScale distributed units (DU) close to the radios, connected via Ethernet fronthaul, while the centralized control unit (CU) performs non-real-time functions fully virtualized and more cost-effectively in a centralized data center.
  • The live cloud RAN trial with Verizon achieved the world’s first over-the-air data session in a fully virtualized RAN environment: Key to this success was the Nokia AirScale All-in-cloud base station, which virtualizes also the real-time baseband processing and puts the baseband processing power at the far edge to meet extremely low latency requirements, combined with the ability to scale up as needed to meet changing demand. It will provide the flexibility needed for future services and requirements for 5G, IoT, low latency services and end-to-end network slicing.

    Nokia AirFrame Open Edge platform has been specifically designed for the far edge.

Which option an operator chooses will largely depend on the required latency of the service, the needs in a given area and the application’s needs. This flexible mix of local and cloud-based processing is a real game changer - Nokia AirScale Cloud RAN delivers any capacity and service level and supports centralized and distributed deployments that run Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs). This means that we can combine performance, scalability and efficiency at its best – in the radio unit (RU), distributed unit (DU) and centralized unit (CU).

The achievements not only show the potential of cloud-based RAN but highlight how the comprehensive Nokia portfolio combines its AirScale base band, Anyhaul transport and cloud-native core networks with the vital cross-domain know-how needed to deliver a complete 5G solution. With the huge potential of 5G to service billions of IoT devices and the fourth industrial revolution, as well as entirely new industries making use of masses of data, the cloud-based RAN is a vital enabler of every operator’s future success.

Further reading:

— Michael Clever, Senior Vice President and Head of Cloud RAN, Mobile Networks, Nokia

This content is sponsored by Nokia.

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