The 5G network of the future will have to handle large data sets that are produced from things like sensors used in the Internet of Things (IoT), or from high-definition video content, and augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) experiences. To accommodate these applications, operators will need to evolve their mobile network architectures to handle this vast amount of data.
Legacy mobile network infrastructure uses proprietary and bundled configuration-specific network technology that results in high operational costs. One way that operators are looking to streamline the network is by virtualizing the radio access network (RAN).
vRAN and NFV
The virtual RAN (vRAN) has strong origins in NFV, which transforms the typical network architecture from hardware-based to software-based. Similarly, vRAN transforms the notion of proprietary hardware-based base stations into something more flexible, agile, and cost-effective.
Operators enable the functions of the baseband unit (BBU) through the use of virtual machines (VMs) on standard servers at a centralized location. vRAN moves the controller functions of traditional base stations to servers at a central location or closer to the edge of the network. In this new “digitally transformed” scenario, operators can pool or adjust radio resources, depending on traffic.
vRAN and 5G
vRAN is an essential step into the 5G future. Data traffic for IoT use cases, such as the rapid growth of machine-to-machine (M2M) data, will require network resources to be under smart control at a granular level. Multiple access technologies — centralized in one location — will also be necessary, accommodating access technologies such millimeter wave (mmWave) radios, LTE, and WiFi.
vRAN simplifies the deployment of new features and algorithms for streamlining resource usage. vRAN also separates network functions from the underlying hardware, making possible a flexible and dynamic RAN environment by which to smoothly enter the 5G future.