The buildout of 5G-enabled networks will impose additional demands to the Radio Access Network (RAN) to address new use cases and experience, services and capabilities. Operators will need multiple deployment models from distributed, to fully integrated, to centralized and to cloud RAN. They will deploy Macro/Micro units and various small cell capacities and form factors. They will have a broad range of radio deployment with different frequency bands, bandwidth carriers, MIMO configurations, beamforming, etc. The next generation of RAN solutions will require a much more diverse set of solution deployments; “one size fits all” is not an option.
Increased 5G traffic will require a significant increase in RAN capacity, and communication service providers (CommSPs) will want to maximize the leverage of existing investments. At the same time, operators will be looking for ways to bring innovation found in Cloud deployments into the RAN, providing the opportunity to increase the value of the RAN by leveraging common cloud SW platform from the core to the edge of the network, carried out faster deployment of new software and features and by enabling new service offerings and revenue models.
Intel is uniquely positioned to enable this RAN evolution. Our rich portfolio of wireless IP and devices includes Intel® Xeon® and Intel Atom® CPUs, base station SoCs, custom solutions, FPGAs and software solutions, such as the FlexRAN hardware and software architecture, transport software stack and new OpenNESS open source toolkit for edge application development. We are leading the 5G transformation together with our customers and partners.
Non-Standalone vs Standalone: Phases for 5G Infrastructure Readiness
Standards organization 3GPP introduced an intermediate milestone radio access technology called non-standalone (NSA) 5G NR, which utilizes the existing LTE core network as an anchor for mobility management. NSA is important because it enables operators to start deploying 5G radios, focusing on enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) use cases sooner than previously expected. At some point NSA and SA will converge. CommSPs that establish common, cloud-based mobile core platform will have a clear migration path to full 5G, cloud-ready architecture.
RAN has been one of the most difficult network elements to migrate to a cloud-ready platform. A number of organizations have been working to extend virtualization from the mobile core to the RAN and broader edge.
Ecosystem Momentum in RAN Virtualization is Real
In a recent press release Verizon* detailed a successful trial to fully virtualize baseband functions, considered the most intensive compute workloads in the RAN. The company noted the virtualized RAN test followed the successful virtualization of its core network in 2018. The decoupling of hardware and software in the RAN provides greater flexibility with the placement of computing operations at the network edge in order to support future 5G, IoT, low latency services and network slicing. The trial utilized the Intel® Xeon® Scalable Processor and Nokia* AirScale All-in-Cloud Base Station architecture. Nokia´s AirFrame open edge server is edge optimized for this type of small far edge data centers.
In a recent blog published at the Open Networking Summit in San Jose, Andre Fuetsch, President AT&T Labs*, outlined the path ahead to reach the goal of virtualizing 75 percent of its core network functions by 2020. A key component are common off-the-shelf servers (COTS) powered by Open Network Automation Platform* (ONAP). With regard to the RAN, the company is working closely with the O-RAN Alliance* to create open hardware specifications for 5G RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC). AT&T* and Nokia recently released seed code to The Linux Foundation* to release into open source.
We expect the momentum to continue around RAN and mobile core virtualization as more CommSPs roll out early 5G services in 2019. We see a rush to seize similar opportunities at the network edge for enterprise-class infrastructure, devices and applications. In addition to our work to virtualize the RAN, we’re working with our partner ecosystem to deliver Intel® Select Solutions focused on accelerating enterprise edge infrastructure and applications with verified and workload-optimized configurations.
Simplifying Virtualization at Network Edge for CommSPs and Enterprise Customers
Intel Select Solutions for the Network provide recipes in the form of reference designs that offer consistent building blocks, that simplify and accelerate the process of selecting and deploying the hardware and software needed for a broad, complex array of workloads and applications. Intel Select Solutions for uCPE is a reference design for verified universal Customer Premises Equipment solutions that CommSPs can trust to deliver a specified level of performance for SD-WAN, uCPE and network edge workloads.
Intel and ADVA* announced a new flavor of the Intel Select Solutions for uCPE with ADVA Ensemble Connector*. ADVA Ensemble Connector is a carrier-class virtualization platform equipped for automated deployment that is expected to accelerate service provisioning, streamline management and reduce costs. Ensemble Connector provides NFV infrastructure, platform security, zero touch provisioning and access to a large ecosystem of VNFs through the Ensemble Harmony* ecosystem.
Adlink*, Advantech*, Caswell*, KGPCo*, Lanner*, Nexcom*, Pivot*, Silicom* and Supermicro have all announced that they will expand their Intel Select Solutions for uCPE portfolios to include ADVA Ensemble to give system integrators and CommSPs an even broader range of hardware and software implementation options. Supermicro demonstrated a commercially available solution with ADVA Ensemble at the recent Big 5G Event.
Combining Intel Architecture, Portfolio and Ecosystem for 5G Readiness
Intel’s decades of experience in creating multiple silicon-based products enables the company to offer a wide variety of solutions, including the new Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors, Intel® Atom processors, FPGAs, and ASICs. Earlier this year Intel shared details about our first 10nm SoC, code-named “Snow Ridge,” designed to support data-intensive workloads across 5G radio access networks, extending Intel Architecture to the base station space. At MWC, Ericsson shared its plans to use Snow Ridge along with custom silicon to deliver market-leading RAN Compute* solutions. ZTE* has also publicly shared its plans to use Snow Ridge in its 5G solutions.
We expect rapid progress in RAN transformation as CommSPs roll out commercial 5G services in the months ahead. In addition to Intel’s broad solution portfolio we have developed software frameworks and reference architectures with our Intel Network Builders ecosystem to deliver commercial RAN solutions built in a multi-vendor, open source environment. The combination of technology innovation and deep industry collaboration positions CommSPs for success whether they choose a distributed or virtualized RAN deployment.
For more information on how to accelerate network transformation,