5G promises to be a technology that will transform the planet even more than Velcro was and mobile network operators (MNOs) will be at the heart of this transformation. Or they could be, says Ofir Zemer, CEO of Cellwize, if they take full advantage of the technologies associated with 5G, Virtual Radio Access Network (vRAN) and Open RAN.
Because these are the technologies that will really drive the 5G revolution forward. By virtualizing networks, mobile network operators will be able to significantly reduce costs and time when deploying new 5G deployments; Open RAN, meanwhile, gives them the flexibility to take full advantage of 5G, providing customers with rapidly deployed personalized services and fully flexible private networks with lightning-fast speeds and near-zero latency.
This will be a radical departure from the current situation where MNOs can only offer services supported by the hardware and hardware vendors they deploy.
While vRAN is a crucial part of the revolution, it is the software deployment of Open RAN, largely separate from hardware and fully codable, that will give MNOs the freedom to deploy this planet-transforming technology.
To achieve this goal, MNOs need to develop a transformation plan, one that will move them from the current deployment of 4G networks to Open RAN 5G networks, and that path goes through vRAN. In fact, many MNOs are already using vRAN; a Heavy Reading survey (November 2020) of operators shows that 59% have deployed vRANs, of which 28% have done so on 4G LTE networks.
While mobile network operators don’t have to virtualize everything to operate their 4G networks, all the support they need is built into the hardware they’ve acquired from legacy Network Equipment Providers (NEP). they could save significant amounts of money, time and effort by virtualizing their networks, including baseband units, gNBs, eNodeBs, distributed units (DUs) and central units (CUs).
4G, being already heavily deployed, doesn’t save much on virtualization, but 5G, which is only deployed massively now, certainly does because of its software deployment. With vRAN, they will be able to deploy their 5G networks much more efficiently, which will allow them to drastically reduce costs by using white-label hardware that does not contain any built-in software protocols, developing software services that will allow route their resources as they see fit, for example by equipping a manufacturing plant with a private network that will allow almost complete automation of a precise production process that requires full connectivity and zero latency between components. With the entire network based on software, MNOs will be able to use their resources to provide customers with the services they need.
Virtualization and open source technology also allow MNOs to operate 4G and 5G networks simultaneously, another benefit that would be impossible without vRAN and Open RAN. It will take time for the 5G revolution to fully blossom, there is a lot of hardware that needs to be deployed and a lot of devices that need to be upgraded, so 4G will be there for a while.
vRAN and Open RAN allow MNOs to continue to offer 4G, while allowing 5G customers to take advantage of the new benefits it brings, such as private networks. 4G vRAN solutions are actually future-proof, as they only require a software upgrade to support 5G.
With 5G networks operating in millimeter wave and less than 6 GHz spectrum bands, network operators will need a new level of cell site density for which virtualized RAN components provide computational scalability of software functions. that enable scalable and agile network deployments.
In addition, 5G networks are all about computing and cloud management, allowing MNOs to manage a platform in the cloud, thereby simplifying network operations and reducing costs. The implementation of vRAN therefore represents a step forward towards this goal and helps unlock a much larger virtualization opportunity and allows mobile network operators to apply some of these 5G advantages to 4G networks.
With virtualization, mobile network operators will allow network operators to use industry-standard hardware, allowing baseband processing to reside in central offices or centralized data centers; BBUs can be deployed on standard server hardware at low cost, avoiding the need for high-end hardware specifically designed for this purpose.
In addition to lower CAPEX, these virtualized solutions provide MNOs with lower operating costs at cell sites, such as reduced power consumption. Additionally, virtualized BBUs allow MNOs to place cell sites in more areas, reducing cell site fingerprinting requirements.
But improved 4G performance and reduced costs are just a prelude to the real story, fully functional virtualized open RAN-based networks that will give mobile network operators the freedom to compete perhaps for the first time in a way. fair in an open market not dominated by a few big names.
MNOs, of course, realize this, and they scramble to find the people, expertise and tools they need from here to there, using open APIs and allowing third parties and other external developers to develop the xApps and rApps that will be the centerpiece of 5G networks. 5G will indeed change the world and not just for the people who use it.
The author is Ofir Zemer, CEO of Cellwize.
About the Author
Ofir is an enterprise software executive with over 24 years of software and systems experience and 12 years of enterprise software and solutions experience for the telecommunications industry. He is a Managing Director and has extensive knowledge of product strategy, management, sales and services.
Ofir has worked with the largest telecommunications groups in the world and has established and maintained partnership relationships with Tier 1 vendors and system integrators. He is also an entrepreneur, he pioneered the contextual marketing segment of enterprise software for telecommunications and a seasoned venture capitalist with a successful track record of investing in early stage start-ups, formulation of viable business models, business development with large partners and divestment.