How the Concept of Cloud RAN has Changed.

By | March 27, 2017

Cloud RANCloud RAN has reached the peak of the hype cycle, but I don’t expect the buzz to fade soon.

My recent discussions at MWC2017 with many solution architects, vendors and service providers convinced me that Cloud RAN is foggy! This is because marketeers intent on capitalizing on the ‘Cloud’ trend took over the Cloud RAN concept.

What started as a concept for centralizing and virtuzlizing radio access baseband engines, now denotes many different architectures, even those that have nothing to do with baseband centralization and virtualization.

But aside from the marketing buzz and fog, there is an aspect of Cloud RAN that’s been developing relatively quietly over the past two years. It’s related to the open source movement that’s slowly creeping up into the industry.

A few leading service providers view open source as a way to be more agile in launching new services. They view industry amalgamating into three or four viable vendors with trepidation and seek new dynamics.

But another major driver of open source is the Internet giants who view access as a bottleneck to their growth. They seek to reduce the cost of access by bringing new innovations to a mature market ripe for disruptive innovation.

Thus, we have TIP (Telecom Infra Project) and M-CORD (Mobile – Central Office Re-architected as Data Center) projects where Cloud RAN is integral to a network architetcure that aims to ignite the wireless infrastructure market by creating a new approach to network buildout and service delivery. New business models follow.

TIP and M-CORD have different approaches to market. M-CORD, which has Google’s participation, heavily stresses the disaggregation of network functions, and has recently released a reference architecture. TIP, which has Facebook’s participation, takes multiple approaches and has developed an ecosystem of over 450 participants.

M-CORD Architecture

M-CORD Architecture.

While these efforts move ahead, 3GPP is in process of standardizing 5G where Cloud RAN concepts again feature highly. Cloud RAN architecture fixes the performance shortcomings of LTE and enables a network comprising different types of radio access nodes – both in terms of form factor and radio access technology.

Hence, Cloud RAN has evolved to become integral to the future network architecture, but not in the traditional sense promoted first by China Mobile. But the important aspect about this development is that Cloud RAN opens the possibilities for new business models. These new business models are complementary to current MNO services, but many MNOs may view them as competitive.

With this context, many questions come to the forefront: can someone disrupt the market through virtualization and open source? How can this disruption happen and what could be its catalyst? What part the service providers are playing if any? What the response of the major vendors be?

I am in process of updating my research on Cloud RAN. I look forward to connect with ecosystem players with views and insights into Cloud RAN. Please feel free to drop a comment, or reach out directly to me (click here): I look foreward to connecting and speaking with you!