“A new era for operators: one network, any cloud, all software” is a headline on Page 10 from this year’s Mobile World Congress daily newsletter that caught my eye. Pipe dream (no pun intended) or probability?
In that article, according to Pardeep Kohli, president and CEO of Mavenir, it is fast becoming a necessary reality with careful 5G network planning and deployment. Currently, most 5G deployments are focused on overlaying 5G spectrum on existing networks. Future network architectures need to be much more flexible, and as Pardeep pointed out, virtualisation, software that runs on any cloud, and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) plus automation will be critical if operators are to take advantage of new use cases, business models and revenue streams.
The goal, of course, is a fully virtualised network, which includes open virtualised RAN (open vRAN) where new functions can be added through software updates rather than manually configuring newly installed hardware, allowing testing and integration to be accomplished quickly.
Forward-thinking operators see their networks as platforms for innovation and understand the value created when 5G is combined with enterprise applications. This requires open interfaces and network functions defined by software rather than hardware.
With 5G, networks are evolving from scheduled releases to continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD), but that requires the orchestration of multiple elements. Operators need a common toolset to automatically coordinate functions across the end-to-end network instead of being restricted by one set of custom monitoring and operational tools for the RAN and another set of CI/CD tools for the core.
That could be easier said than done because, until now, operators have been locked into their incumbent vendors, and it has not been possible to connect a radio unit from one to the baseband processor of another. Open vRAN disaggregates RAN functionality, so baseband functionality is split between virtualised Distributed Units (vDU) and Central Units (vCU).
Capable of supporting multiple architectures in a single network, open vRAN offers operators a step change in flexibility. As RAN functions can now be managed remotely, open vRAN also simplifies operations, reducing the cost of deploying and operating networks.
Results show the performance of open vRAN can equal and, in some cases, exceed that of traditional systems. Great work is being done to implement advanced vDU features on standard server hardware, and vDUs are now available that support high-capacity features of 4G and 5G, such as Carrier Aggregation and interference coordination. These virtualised functions can be implemented on vendor-neutral Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) hardware.
Adding to this, Dipesh Ranjan, SVP & Head of APAC mentioned, “We are seeing a lot of interest from CSPs in adopting Open RAN across the APJ region. Carriers are seeking partners that can help them mitigate the effect of a skills shortage and deliver an open RAN solution that uses a multivendor, best-of-breed solution. Mavenir is driving engagements and deployments with leading CSPs and enterprises for use cases such as private 5G networks for mining sector /autonomous vehicles. Using analytics and machine learning, our solution supports carriers and enterprises in the full automation of the network lifecycle.”
Going to 5G should not just be about new access technology. A big part of the transition should focus on moving to a cloud-native environment. Traditionally, most operators have deployed applications on their on-premises or private clouds. But by moving to a cloud-native architecture using containers, the door is opened to the public cloud, hybrid cloud deployments, and even pay-as-you-go models.
The transformation has begun, whether CSPs are migrating all services to the public cloud or using it to complement their existing private clouds to handle spikes in demand better. More CSPs are increasingly looking for network and service automation solutions deployed in the cloud. Whether the operator’s preferred cloud strategy is public, private or hybrid, open virtualised networks offer operators a step change in flexibility: multiple architectures can co-exist within a single network.
One network that runs all software in any cloud is now the gold standard for network operators, enabling them to dynamically launch new services, adopt innovative technologies, and support enterprise applications in any environment.
It should be no surprise that a recent survey of 156 mobile network operators commissioned by Mavenir and conducted by Mobile World Live highlighted momentum towards greater virtualisation, the cloud, and open RAN with:
- 95% of operators understand the importance of virtualisation, while 85% have already virtualised some or all network functions.
- 75% of respondents indicated an open network architecture was either critical or essential to their future strategies, with 94% planning to deploy Open RAN within the next five years.
- More than 75% of operators are moving towards the cloud, with 78% favouring a hybrid or other cloud model.
- An agile, multi-generation network is cited as critical to progress by 74% of the operators.
To achieve the “one network, any cloud, all software” objective, operators need to work with partners that offer the relevant end-to-end, cloud-native software skills to thrive in the 5G era. It’s no longer a pipe dream – it’s REALITY!
Related article: Virtual RAN is the foundation of ‘real’ 5G