The radio access network (RAN) has been in use since the beginning of cellular technology. Components of the RAN network include a base station and antennas that cover a given region, depending on their capacity. An essential component of today’s telecommunications, the RAN network is vital in 3G and 4G network connections — just as it will be an indispensable piece of the 5G puzzle.
The radio access network has seen an incremental evolution over the years and will require a major step forward as we enter the new age of mobile telecommunications.
RAN Network Evolution
Through the mobile communications generations, the Third-Generation Partnership Program (3GPP) has added functions to the RAN and core networks to support new network elements and applications. The introduction of packet-switched data in the core network was an important change affecting the 2G RAN network, supporting the higher traffic rates. In 3G, lower redundancy and schemes for higher spectral efficiency improved data ranges on the radio access network, leading the charge to mobile broadband.
The 3GPP 4G system introduced a RAN network called Long-Term Evolution (LTE), which encapsulates a radio access network and a core network that differ from previous telecommunications systems. The LTE core network separates the packet-switched domain from the circuit-switched voice service, which carries as data via voice-over-IP (VoIP).
RAN Network Future
As we near the reality of 5G networks, research has suggested that the RAN network architecture needs to be reworked beyond the aforementioned evolution of the 3GPP LTE releases. The radio access network requires a new approach in light of the new use cases, services, and traffic types that 5G will introduce, particularly when it comes to configurability and flexibility.
The RAN network of 2020 will need to be far more intricate and complex, making use of an array of enabling technologies such as software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), as well as frequency bands such as millimeter wave (mmWave). To those ends, tomorrow’s RAN network will leverage virtualization (vRAN) and Cloud (C-RAN) technologies.