Written by Bob Everson, Global Director, Mobility and 5G, Cisco Systems
One of the biggest trends in the networking industry has been towards disaggregation – unbundling the components of the network into smaller, simpler components and virtualizing capability to reduce cost and increase agility. A perfect example of this is the shift in the cable HFC network to software-based, standardized, open Remote PHY, resulting in lower cost HFC solutions while enabling greater customer capacity. And at SCTE 2017, a few months back, we took the next step, demonstrating how the CMTS is virtualizing into a cloud-native software platform while the remaining HFC hardware continues to become simpler and Ethernet-based.
For mobile networks, there is a similar opportunity to disaggregate the Radio Access Network. For too long, this part of the network has been overly complex and the need to simplify and cost-optimize the RAN has never been greater. Yesterday, Cisco, along with other key vendors, announced an ecosystem designed to accelerate the viability and adoption of open virtualized RAN (vRAN) solutions and ensure their extension into a broader network architecture. This will accelerate innovation and enable new business models while dramatically lowering costs, improving performance, and allowing for faster deployment of next-generation mobile networks. Cisco is working with ecosystem vendors who have confirmed plans to join the initiative including Altiostar, Aricent, Intel, Mavenir, Phazr, Red Hat and Tech Mahindra; to address current and future needs of all our carrier customers.
Operators are facing strong pressures to evolve their business and operations. They continue to experience voracious demand for bandwidth, while aggressive competition drives downward pressure on ARPU. Effectively addressing this problem requires new solutions focused on reducing Capex and Opex for a much lower cost per bit, while simultaneously creating a more flexible and agile service delivery environment. This is a non-trivial combination to solve for in the current mode of operations.
Innovations such as network function virtualization, are enabling a fundamentally new architecture to emerge – a truly software-defined mobile network. This new architecture will provide an economical, dynamic and flexible platform to satisfy a variety of use cases and applications. Open vRAN is a key enabler for a dynamic multi-vendor ecosystem.
While there is a lot of strong innovation happening in this space, there are still many gaps and challenges which make it difficult to assemble end-to-end solutions. This puts a heavy burden back on progressive operators and start-ups with limited scope. We believe it’s an ideal time to align and collaborate to solve the key challenges to deliver innovative RAN solutions ready for commercial deployment.
What are some of the important benefits of virtualized RAN?
The advent of NFV and SDN is transforming traditional networks, starting at the data-center and expanding outwards to access networks. vRAN provides a set of methods to decompose the traditional radio stacks and map them into discrete elements. Decomposition allows the hardware solutions to be decoupled from software implementations, enabling an ecosystem of vendors to emerge that will deliver the infrastructure for more cost-effective and efficient access networks. To achieve this, it is essential that open interfaces be established to maximize innovation, flexibility, and economic benefits.
A truly open virtualized RAN helps in a number of areas, including:
- Empowering rapid innovation in both the hardware domain and software domain
- Leveraging economical and ubiquitous Ethernet and/or IP based transport to support lower cost, future-proof deployments
- Enabling the operator to maximize the benefits of IP and cloud throughout the network, leveraging key technologies such as segment routing
- Utilizing COTS hardware and NFV to provide elasticity of capacity
- Pooling capacity resources and licenses to cater to large sets of devices with diverse needs
- Providing a flexible platform for Edge Computing essential for a new generation of services
- Allowing dynamic orchestration of 5G slices
- Supporting an almost limitless variety of use cases and deployment models
- Building an agile service delivery environment for the creation of new business models
What Can Network Operators Expect?
A customer-centric ecosystem focused on assembling viable solutions and solving key challenges. This ecosystem is aligned with building an open and modular architecture which will support a variety of use cases. We’ll focus on activities that simplify and de-risk the move to vRAN and a software-defined mobile network such as:
- Defining reference architectures
- Testing and integration
- Solutions validation
- Standards activities at existing standards bodies
- Identifying areas where standards bodies and industry forums need to focus
- Coordinating roadmaps to deliver end-to-end solutions
- Publishing performance benchmarks
- Creating and validating network management templates
- Running Proof of Concepts in the lab and in the field
We’re just getting started with our ecosystem partners – but it’s an exciting opportunity. Come visit us – or our partners – at Mobile World Congress this week to learn more!