- Centralized radio access networks (C-RANs), which will be the precursor to cloud radio access networks (also known as C-RANs). Centralized RAN involves moving baseband processing units (BBUs) from cell sites to a central location serving a wide area via fronthaul. This practice not only reduces the amount of equipment at the cell site, but also lowers latency. In the coming evolution to cloud radio access networks, many BBU functions will be offloaded to commercial servers, essentially virtualizing the radio itself and greatly simplifying network management.
- Network function virtualization (NFV), which guides development of new core network architecture that will simplify the rollout of new services. NFV and software-defined networking (SDN)—deployed in conjunction with advanced analytic tools—will allow MNOs to automatically optimize their networks under policy control.
- Cell virtualization, which extends the concept of virtualization beyond the core network to the airwaves. Inside buildings, cell virtualization will enable MNOs to manage multiple radio points within the footprint of a single cell, boosting capacity and eliminating inter-cell interference. C-RAN-enabled cell virtualization also gives operators the ability to greatly increase spectrum reuse—hence, boosting overall efficiency.
- Virtual service instances, which reflect the need for 5G networks to support a diverse set of use cases. These virtual instances (or “network slices”) can serve different customers with different Quality of Experience (QoE) levels even though they may be sharing common computing, storage or connectivity resources.
Think Beyond Physical Equipment to Prepare for 5G
To unlock networks' true potential, mobile network operators (MNOs) will need to shift from physical hardware to virtualization.
For example, by moving baseband processing units from cell sites to a centralized location known as centralized radio access networks (C-RANs), MNOs can lower latency while reducing the amount of equipment necessary on site. Plus, virtualization can improve other parts of the network—like better managing network architecture through network function virtualization (NFV) as well as airwaves through cell virtualization. In addition, through virtual service instances, MNOs can better control the quality of experience (QoE) for each individual subscriber.
MNOs will need to virtualize much of their 5G infrastructure to effectively manage spectrum—and efficiently manage costs. Several solutions and practices already exist to make this migration practical, including:
Be tuned for Part III coming soon.