How to Converse in Cloud: Cloud Radio Access Networks

How C-RANs are paving the way for 5G

Today marks the first public availability of Verizon’s first 5G ultra-wideband, mobile-enabled cities – Chicago and Minneapolis – with plans to expand to more than 30 markets in 2019. Verizon is one of the first U.S. carriers to bring 5G to major metros – AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have also announced their 5G strategies. All of these companies will be taking advantage of a Cloud (sometimes known as Centralized) Radio Access Network (C-RAN) foundation that continues to be transformed over the years in preparation for 5G. C-RAN is a cloud-based architecture for radio access networks that supports wireless communication standards (3G, 4G, 5G, etc.).

Radio access networks have been around since the beginning of cellular communications and provide radio access and coordination management of resources across radio sites. For example, your cell phone wirelessly connects to a core network and the RAN transmits its signal to various wireless endpoints, along with other network traffic. Depending on the type of RAN it is, the network controller handles radio resource management, mobility management and data encryption over a circuit-switched core network or a packet-switched core network.[i]

RADIO ACCESS NETWORK (RAN)

 

 

Source: ResearchGate

As 5G is capable of transmitting petabytes of data, it is more cost-effective for network operators when  handling these large volumes of traffic to deploy centralized C-RANs, in addition to improving network performance via low-latency connections.[ii]

The components of a C-RAN architecture include: a centralized baseband unit (BBU) pool, remote radio unit (RRU) networks, and fronthaul or transport network:

  •        The BBU pool is located at a centralized site and functions as a cloud or a data center. Its multiple BBU nodes dynamically allocate resources to RRUs based on current network needs.
  •        Wireless devices connect to the RRU network, similar to how they connect to access points or towers in traditional cellular networks.
  •        The Fronthaul/transport network serves as the connection layer between a BBU and a set of RRUs. It uses optical fiber communication, cellular communication, or millimeter wave (mmWave) communication to provide high-bandwidth links for multiple RRUs.

CLOUD RADIO ACCESS NETWORK (C-RAN)

Source: Washington State University in St. Louis’ School of Engineering and Applied Science

As more use cases, such as the internet of things (IoT), drive increasing amounts of data over 5G networks, C-RAN operators will need to quickly transform their wireless networks to increase capacity scaling while simplifying management. To best support the high volume of 5G traffic, carriers are integrating software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) technologies into their C-RAN components.

As a result, C-RAN operators are able to create virtual RANs (V-RANs) by enabling baseband BBU functions on virtual machines at a centralized cloud location.[iii] These virtual RANs (V-RANs) will be essential to the success of 5G by enabling operators to simplify wireless network operations and management, support higher frequency bands such as millimeter wave (mmWave), reduce energy consumption, increase capacity scaling, and offer users a better quality of service and faster deployment of new services over mobile broadband networks.

VIRTUAL RADIO ACCESS NETWORK (V-RAN)

Source: Wind River Blog (Intel)

The role of a global interconnection platform

It is most advantageous for carriers to deploy C-RANs in densely populated metro areas near the most users. Proximity between C-RANs and ecosystems of network carriers, cloud providers and business users are critical to delivering high-speed, low-latency connectivity. Placing 5G infrastructures on a global interconnection and colocation platform in major metros, such as Platform Equinixâ, to enable direct and secure access to local C-RANs is critical for the success of 5G networking.

At Equinix, we support more than 1,800 network and 2,900 cloud and IT providers and 9,800+ customers across our global footprint, which spans 52 metros worldwide. We have a vision to provide NFV solutions integrated directly to our ecosystems of cloud providers, network providers and enterprises in support of 5G and C-RANs and V-RANs. Today, Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric™ (ECX Fabric™) runs on Platform Equinix to directly, securely and dynamically connect distributed infrastructure and digital ecosystems via global, software-defined interconnections. In the coming months, we will be talking more about our NFV plans and what that means for our customers leveraging 5G networks in support of digital business worldwide.

In the meantime, we invite you to visit our Interconnection Oriented Architecture™ (IOA™) Knowledge Base, to access blueprints for enterprise networks and network service providers.

[i] SDXCentral, “How is the RAN Network Evolving.”

[ii] SDXCentral, “The Role of C-RANs in 5G networks.”

[iii] Wind, “Accelerate Virtual RAN Deployments with a Pre-Integrated End-to-End System Solution.”

 

 

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