NFV: Radio Virtualization in the RAN
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Part of a larger network virtualization trend leveraging the NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) and SDN (Software Defined Networks) initiatives, RAN Virtualization in the mobile network (or vRAN) is emerging as an important part of the RAN architecture roadmap with significant advantages to offer a mobile network operator (MNO).
This network virtualization trend is one of the ways an MNO can respond to the exploding growth in data traffic and the proliferation of wireless connections to subscribers and to IoT (Internet of Things) devices. The MNO must densify its network and balance between maximizing the use of a limited asset (spectrum) with ever more efficient protocols such as LTE-A or 5G and obtain an increase in specific capacity or capacity concentration of its network while lowering TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). RAN Virtualization leverages SDN / NFV to virtualize a portion of the RAN onto standard IT or COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) hardware in a central location or in the cloud, and has the potential to offer advantages such as smaller footprint and energy consumption resulting from dynamic load-balancing and traffic steering.
RAN Virtualization is gaining increasing acceptance among MNOs and those vendors who are able to build on C-RAN (Centralized or Cloud RAN) architectures and evolve to vRAN will benefit. Segments of the market which have been deploying C-RAN architectures for some time now are among the first to virtualize the RAN.
The in-building and in-venue segments, because of their inherently controlled environments are among the first to feature vRAN architectures. Other scenarios with available fiber fronthaul are also emerging as early adopters of vRAN. These networks can be found in China with China Mobile, South Korea with KT, SK Telecom and LGU+ and in Japan with NTT DOCOMO and Softbank for instance. MNOs in Europe are trialing vRAN the most public of which have been Orange France, Deutsche Telekom, and Telefónica. In the Middle East Ooredoo and Etisalat Mobily have commercial vRAN networks.
A companion report discusses 42 selected companies active in the vRAN ecosystem - nine RAN equipment vendors, eleven DAS equipment vendors, five industry associations, five semiconductor manufacturers and twelve MNOs are profiled for their activity in vRAN.