RAN Innovations Can Drive Centralization and Virtualization of Networks

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Evolution of RAN: Spotlight by TelecomDrive.com

As operators look for achieving better operational efficiencies – next generation innovations around RAN or Radio Access Network can enable centralization and virtualization of telecom networks.   

Anna-Kaarina Pietilä, Radio Marketing Manager, Mobile Networks, Nokia interacts with Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com about the way RAN is getting evolved and what is the innovative proposition that Nokia is bringing for global telecoms community.

At a time when consumers are always looking forward to better experience – it is all about delivering HD content, videos etc. In such scenario, how can centralized RAN approach help operators deliver more with less?

Terminology

  • Distributed RAN: traditional base station with baseband processing on each cell site
  • Centralized RAN: a number of traditional BTS baseband running in one place, supporting up to tens or hundreds of cell sites
  • Cloud RAN: Baseband processing elements (and other radio elements such as controllers) virtualized & running on cloud infrastructure. The cloud RAN can reside on distributed or centralized data centers

To be able to answer to the future needs, Distributed RAN sites need more capacity and connect more cells, especially larger pools of CoMP and carrier aggregation like features. Centralization makes larger clusters of cells to coordinate, share the site and ease the maintenance, while using still traditional system modules for baseband processing and fiber fronthaul. Virtualization enables baseband and radio controllers to run on IT hardware for capacity sharing even with core, bringing flexibility, resiliency and programmability, as well as applications and services closer to the user. Nokia´s AirScale Radio Access runs all these topologies.

What are some of the big trends that are happening in the RAN space that can help telecoms move up the value chain?

When we think about the future of communications, we can be sure it will look very different to today. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the deployment of 5G technologies will change forever the everyday experiences of people and businesses. Communications will become part of the fabric of our lives and open up many exciting new revenue opportunities for operators.

The pace of change is accelerating; the needs of users are broadening and becoming less predictable. Operators will need a new approach to meet the increasingly diverse needs of humans and machines. It’s not just about connectivity – you need a network that is more agile and easily scalable to meet the new demands the instant they arise.

The radio access network (RAN) will be in the front line of this new, programmable world, opening new velocity of software cycles for innovation and performance.

Nokia´s next generation radio access, AirScale Radio Access, is designed to answer to the next generation needs. Being cloud-based, Nokia AirScale makes resources for new functions available within minutes instead of the months that conventional networks need. Operators can very quickly react to new demands or changing market needs by launching services to boost business or partner with over-the-top (OTT) players to win new revenue immediately.

AirScale runs Nokia’s Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) solution on the same servers as the Cloud RAN, which opens up Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to enable applications and services to seamlessly use real radio data. Operator´s customers can enjoy locally-relevant services with very low latency for a mind-blowing customer experience OTT providers can only dream of offering.

What are some of the innovative solutions that your organization is bringing forward in this direction?

Facing fundamental change, the mobile industry is in need of new, more flexible ways to deliver a much wider range of services. The demands on operators are growing – mobile broadband traffic is doubling annually; 50 billion things will be connected by 2025; new 5G requirements and radio frequencies; low latency, huge connectivity and extreme capacity to support a multitude of new use cases; and intense pressure to reduce carbon emissions.

Nokia is responding to all the challenges with 5G ready AirScale Radio Access, an entirely new way to build radio access networks that deliver services with unlimited capacity scaling and market-leading latency and connectivity.

Combining all the elements needed to help operators prepare for the Internet of Things and the 5G era, Nokia AirScale Radio Access can run all technologies in the same radio access and use any architecture topology.

Nokia AirScale Radio Access is a complete radio access generation combining all the elements needed by operators to meet the increasing demands of the 5G future.

The solution comprises:

  • Nokia AirScale Base Station, which includes new multiband RF elements and system modules
  • Cloud RAN with Nokia AirScale Cloud Base Station Server (a cloud BTS) as well as Nokia AirScale RNC (cloud-based controller) running on Nokia AirFrame cloud infrastructure designed to meet stringent radio access capacity, performance and latency requirements
  • Nokia AirScale Wi-Fi, including Wi-Fi Access points and Nokia AirScale Wi-Fi Controller running on Nokia AirFrame hardware
  • Common software across Nokia’s radio access
  • Services use intelligent analytics and extreme automation to maximize the performance of hybrid networks

Any radio, any topology

Multi-Standard, multi-band, multi-mount Nokia AirScale radios use innovative super wideband and multiband technology to combine up to three bands in a single radio. The same radio platform offers versatile installation for the leanest site solution.

Nokia AirScale Radio Access supports any radio technology – 2G, 3G, TDD-LTE, FDD-LTE, LTE Advanced Pro – all of which can be run simultaneously in the base station. Wi-Fi is integrated into the same radio access and multi-connectivity is built in to split data packets over multiple radios (LTE, Wi-Fi, 5G), simplifying deployment and enabling capacity load balancing across layers for a seamless flow of data to users.

Ready for 5G, baseband capacity can be chained to create unlimited capacity and connectivity to meet the needs of massive IoT connectivity and 5G speeds. Additional scaling can be achieved with Cloud RAN, eliminating the need to over dimension a local Distributed RAN site.

AirScale Radio Access supports Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) on the same servers as Cloud RAN, opening up APIs to a world of new applications, services, plug-ins integrated into the RAN and using information from real radio conditions.

The Cloud RAN provides agility and enables Internet-like continuous software delivery, taking advantage of Nokia’s powerful AirFrame IT hardware that meets stringent radio access capacity and latency.

The power consumption of the new radio access is 60 percent lower than Nokia’s previous market-leading base station generation and uses advanced features such as Envelope Tracking to consume very low energy in the absence of traffic, or to shut off network layers experiencing low traffic.

Nokia AirScale radio sites are versatile with standalone or integrated antenna, making them simpler to install and allowing them to fit any cell site to take advantage of novel locations using any available transport, enabling them to be effectively hidden from view.

With Nokia AirScale Radio Access, operators have the flexible, high capacity, future proof and highly energy efficient network solution they need to meet the challenges they face.

Cloud RAN touted to take lead towards delivering next generation capabilities and flexibility for operators. Your comment?

Yes, Cloud RAN is an essential part of our next generation AirScale Radio Access. It provides scalability and agility and enables Internet-like continuous software delivery, taking advantage of Nokia’s powerful AirFrame IT hardware that meets stringent radio access capacity and latency.

With Nokia Cloud RAN, processing capacity can be allocated from almost anywhere in the network, such as an adjacent cell or a centralized data center, to where it is needed most. Nokia´s unique multi-layer architecture approach supports distributed and centralized deployments, or a combination of both, using multiple fronthaul types, including Ethernet. An operator’s existing radio access and transport assets are used more efficiently, enabling a smooth evolution to a cloud optimized RAN, all ready for 5G and the Internet of Things.

Cloud RAN enables new services and creates business opportunities through shorter software and innovation cycles.  With high scalability it allows resources to be scaled up and down efficiently, in particular for Internet of Things (IoT) and next generation heterogeneous access. It´s evolutionary and combines licensed and unlicensed spectrum for maximum utilization of radio assets. It´s 5G readiness provides a foundation for the next leap in spectral efficiency, higher peak rates and lower latency.

What are some of the challenges that you see in this space and how can these challenges be resolved?

Some of the changes in the industry were mentioned in connection to earlier answers above: “Facing fundamental change, the mobile industry is in need of new, more flexible ways to deliver a much wider range of services.

The demands on operators are growing – mobile broadband traffic is doubling annually; 50 billion things will be connected by 2025; new 5G requirements and radio frequencies; low latency, huge connectivity and extreme capacity to support a multitude of new use cases; and intense pressure to reduce carbon emissions.”

Nokia is responding to the challenges with 5G ready AirScale Radio Access, an entirely new way to build radio access networks that deliver services with unlimited capacity scaling and market-leading latency and connectivity.

Combining all the elements needed to help operators prepare for the Internet of Things and the 5G era, Nokia AirScale Radio Access can run all technologies in the same radio access and use any architecture topology.

What is the evolving role of RAN that you see – especially in a 4G advanced or 5G / IoT network scenario?

4G advanced scenario: AirScale-powered 4.5G Pro and 4.9G establishes smooth path for operators to 5G

Future 5G technology promises to deliver extreme mobile broadband and large-scale critical communication between machines to serve diverse industries, enterprises and vertical applications, especially in large urban environments with huge concentrations of people and businesses. To help operators get there, Nokia has defined 4.5G Pro as the next step in a technology path that will optimize the journey to 5G. 4.5G Pro will enable major increases in LTE capacity, coverage and speed where and when they are needed.

Powered by the Nokia AirScale radio portfolio, 4.5G Pro will deliver ten times the speeds of initial 4G networks, making it possible for operators to offer gigabit peak data rates to meet growing demands from the programmable world, aligned with upcoming next-generation device launches. Using extended carrier aggregation techniques across up to five frequency bands, operators will be able to leverage their diverse paired (FDD) and unpaired (TDD) licensed spectrum as well as unlicensed spectrum, in line with local national regulations, supported by the upcoming generation of user devices.

With urban populations growing steadily, ultra-connected megacities are becoming a challenge for operators of mobile and fixed broadband networks. 4.5G Pro builds upon Nokia 4.5G technology for which the company already has more than 90 customers across the globe. Nokia 4.5G technology leverages techniques such as aggregation of up to four carriers, advanced radio modulations techniques and network based IoT connectivity to boost LTE capabilities and help operators address these challenges.

While 4.5G Pro focuses on the 2017 user device ecosystem and 5G-readiness of the network, deployment in the future of Nokia 4.9G will bring significant capacity and data rate enhancements and network latency reductions to let users maintain a continuous 5G service experience complementing 5G radio coverage. 4.9G will comprise features to further increase capacity and speeds to several gigabits per second, including allowing additional numbers of carriers to be aggregated, opening the door to additional licensed and unlicensed spectrum, and advancing the radio systems to allow highly directional antennas to be used and to allow signals sent via multiple transmit / receive paths to be added together. Furthermore, it will utilize cloud-based networks with intelligence added to the edge in order to reduce latencies to less than 10msec.

Emergence of 5G

While evolution in 4G is taking place within the next couple of years, development of 5G is ongoing. We will see first commercial networks based on 5GOTSA (5G Open Trial Specification Alliance – brings together KT SIG and 5GTF) to come to market as early as 2017 and early 2018.  3GPP standards based compliancy is coming earliest at end of 2018 (3GPP L1/L2 comes end of 2017, and L3 mid-2018).

Nokia is a major force behind 5G research and industry collaboration. The company leads and actively contributes to joint industry work, standardization, spectrum and regulatory discussions, and participates in collaborative research such as Europe’s 5G PPP (5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership). It is the technical coordinator of the METIS-II project and leads the 5G NORMA consortium which defines the 5G architecture.

Some Nokia key milestones:

  • The first to run 5G on a commercially available base station (MWC 2016)
  • First ever demonstration of a live 5G network running on commercial platforms (5G World, London)
  • Building 5G in North America with all major operators and in touch with service providers worldwide, including all operators in Korea and Japan
  • Nokia´s AirScale platform is 5G-ready: Nokia is working on commercial platform, not lab prototypes as a basis of the development.

How can operators strengthen their existing RAN infrastructure in a cost effective manner?

Investing in 4G evolution and future-proof solutions that are 5G ready.