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An Introduction to vRAN

smart city utilizing virtualized radio access network

vRAN (virtualized radio access network) offers 5G service providers the ability to offer advanced services including private networks, network slicing, and IoT connectivity with the high performance and reliability of 5G. vRAN represents an evolution in the world of 5G that enables providers to develop advancements for creating more efficient and cost-effective 5G networks.

5G network providers can leverage vRAN to simplify network management while reducing operation and maintenance costs. The evolution of mobile networks represented by vRAN includes the ability to host multiple vendors on the same hardware which increases scalability and cost savings for 5G providers and customers.

This guide introduces vRAN — what it means, why it’s necessary for 5G, and why vRAN’s advantages are more beneficial compared to other RAN architectures.

Key Takeaways

  • What is vRAN?
  • Why is vRAN necessary for 5G?
  • Learn the advantages of vRAN.
  • What is RAN?
  • Discover how vRAN provides for 5G expansion.
  • Find out how vRAN enables businesses to create private 5G networks.

What is vRAN?

vRAN is a type of RAN (radio access network) that creates connection points between wireless devices and the provider’s core network. vRAN is a virtualized RAN (radio access network). Virtualization allows vRAN to be software-based and capable of running on standard servers.

vRAN is the next evolutionary step in advancing 5G networks and capabilities. vRAN enables network providers to run baseband functions as software rather than as proprietary hardware. vRAN provides a solution for 5G network densification and enables functions to pool in a central location using MNOs (mobile network operators). MNOs pool and adjust radio resources to better handle network user traffic.

In a vRAN 5G network, the base stations can be divided into three parts:

  • Radio Unit (RU)
  • Distributed Unit (DU)
  • Centralized Unit (CU)

The DU and CU are then deployed using off-the-shelf or standard servers and virtualized network functions.

By dividing the units into three parts, vRAN provides greater network flexibility as one DU can support multiple RUs with varying access technologies in use, as well as different bands. Network agility increases when the network can deploy dynamic applications and scale automatically without hardware constraints.

The open nature of vRAN enables cost savings by using off-the-shelf servers without having to pay for proprietary hardware. According to Nokia’s Tommi Uitto, “VRAN means that the Baseband functions, such as L1, L2, L3 and transport processing, or at least some of them, are run by General Purpose Processors (GPP, such as x86 processors), on top of virtually any commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computing platform. Until now, baseband has been run in purpose-built hardware (HW) using either ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) or CSSP (Custom Specific Standard Product) type of System-on-Chips (SoC).”

vRAN virtualizes network processing and leverages the use of COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) servers and eliminates the high cost of proprietary hardware needs. By shifting to virtualization, users gain the leverage of a cloud-managed service. The combination enables a full-strength network with lower costs and higher overall performance.

Why is vRAN Necessary for 5G?

5G providers are moving towards software and cloud-based networks to improve scale and reduce cost. Additionally, network management becomes easier which reduces business costs while improving services for 5G customers. vRAN creates a central system management location using a server or cloud-based server. A centralized management hub brings base stations closer to the edges of a network and enables MNO pool and radio resource adjustments for improved performance.

vRAN provides a solution that decouples Base Station functions from Radio Units so processing can be pooled at the server. vRAN enables providers to split or slice networks to better serve customers. vRAN builds on recent modifications to cRAN for SDN/NFV tools (Software-Defined Networking/Network Function Virtualization) tools. vRAN’s virtualization uses the split or slicing of networks to flex based on user demands or traffic. The ability to manage the network in fine detail is important to the continued success of 5G. As more users come to 5G, improvements in managing traffic while retaining performance and reliability are essential for 5G providers.

vRAN’s NMFT tools allow providers to control and route network resources efficiently, ensuring continuous reliability, low latency, and higher performance. 5G network managers can easily tune resources to accommodate network traffic from a central server control or dashboard. vRAN allows 5G providers to better scale networks for customers without having to purchase or deploy proprietary hardware.

As connected devices increase and IoT connectivity expands, vRAN is the solution that is capable of handling 5G network standards.

What are the Advantages of vRAN?

Advantages of vRAN include:

  • Lower operating costs
  • Increased infrastructure agility and flexibility
  • Reduces hardware and hardware integration requirements
  • Direct scalability of network resources based on user load
  • Scalability enables cost-effective network options for customers
  • Interoperability with other RAN architectures enables scale

Virtualized network infrastructures using vRAN see a 44% total cost of ownership savings.

vRANs provide enhanced network visibility and control compared to other RAN architectures. More visibility and control mean businesses experience higher reliability and app-specific service levels across the network. With fewer hardware needs and increased scalability, businesses can now afford a private network using vRAN. With centralized and efficient network operations, both 5G providers and customers benefit from vRAN.

How Do RANs Work?

RAN stands for Radio Access Network. RANS provide connection points between devices and the 5G network. RANs are capable of performing complex processing and represent a significant investment for network capital and operational business expenses. RANs are powerful but rely on proprietary hardware networks that increase network and business customer operating costs. RANs come in different architectures, like vRAN.

All RANs are created using the same core components including:

  • Radios
    • Radios can operate on various frequencies and power levels. Radios transmit cellular signals and convert them into radio waves for network broadcasting.
  • Antennas
    • Antennas vary by size and work either indoors or outdoors. Antennas transmit and receive cellular signals across distances.
  • Baseband Units
    • Baseband Units or BBUs process incoming and outgoing data from a radio unit. BBUS can be centralized or pooled together. BBU pools then send data to the mobile network.

RANs provide access to and management of resources across radio sites. For example, a device wirelessly connects to a 5G network. The RAN then sends its signal to various wireless endpoints to travel with traffic from a variety of networks. A single device or smartphone can be connected to multiple RANs at once.

Currently, RAN has been recently split to better serve customers. In the cRAN architecture, the radios and antennas have been split from the baseband controller to better handle modern mobile devices’ demands and user traffic. vRAN goes a step further and divides the user plane and control plane into distinct elements.

The vRAN controlled network may exchange messages or data using software-defined networking switches and separate control-based interfaces. The ability to split allows for improved 5G performance through network slicing and high MIMO antenna usage.

vRAN and oRAN – What’s the Difference?

vRAN and oRAN are terms often used in place of each other and characterized as open, virtualized RAN options. However, oRAN and vRAN are different concepts. oRAN is defined by standardized and open interfaces between components of the 5G RAN network. vRAN is one possible implementation of the 5G RAN components and an oRAN interface.

oRAN and vRAN may co-exist in some networks where oRAN is used exclusively, or a vRAN of the DU and CU components are virtualized but not oRAN compliant (non-open source). Another option may be an oRAN compliant RAN that is wholly or partly implemented as a vRAN.

vRAN implementations move the baseband functions for transport processing and run them on standard or cloud-based servers. Using a vRAN, networks can implement baseband processing on the cloud and significantly reduce resource management and processing costs.

Are you Ready for vRAN?

vRAN enables businesses to consider building and managing private 5G networks. 5G providers may provide consulting and design services, but once deployed the network becomes a self-serving 5G network completely serving business needs.

Investing in vRAN improves network performance, reduces costs, and simplifies network infrastructures for customers and service providers. vRAN supplies businesses with the resources to build exceptional customer experience all with increased scalability and processing efficiency. Moving network infrastructure to a secure, managed vRAN enables businesses to manage extensive networks with greater effectiveness using cloud-based automation.

Additionally, business users and service providers can leverage vRAN to minimize CAPEX (capital expense) and OPEX (operational expense). vRAN 5G architectures require less infrastructure investment but more, less expensive, IT spending. OPEX or operating expenses overall is shown to be falling with 5G and the adoption of greater process automation and centralized service IT management.

Need help finding the right vRAN 5G solution? Visit ATEC Wireless for full-service 5G design and management services. Put our expertise to use for designing and implementing private or shared networks that bring you all the advantages of vRAN combined with the reliability, data sharing power, and low latency of 5G.