Cloud radio access networks (C-RANs) are moving quickly from theory to reality, as a handful of operators prepares to deploy the emerging technology in the next couple of years.
China Mobile will launch C-RANs as early as 2015 with Japan's NTT DoCoMo expected to follow in 2016, according to Gilad Garon, CEO of Asocs, which sells silicon cores for modems. Garon, who was interviewed by EE Times, said a third unnamed carrier is also preparing to launch C-RANs, which consolidate individual base station processing into a single or regional server farm using Intel x86 servers to eliminate the need for traditional wireless base stations.
In February, Asocs signed a strategic memorandum of understanding for the joint development, commercialization, testing and deployment of large-scale baseband processing units for China Mobile's C-RAN trials. "Korea Telecom (KT) is involved, and we see interest in Europe primarily from Deutsche Telekom," said Garon.
Light Reading noted last year that KT's version of C-RAN, called "Cloud Communication Center" (CCC), was created in partnership with Samsung and Intel.
According to Intel, C-RANs use collaborative radio and real-time cloud infrastructure to reduce operator capex and opex by bringing intelligence to the edge of the network so it can respond dynamically on the fly. C-RAN architecture can enable a complete LTE base station to be implemented using general purpose core processors, with the workload being divided across multiple cores.
Intel has been especially bullish about C-RANs and, in fact, is the only major chip maker supporting the technology, posing a potential hurdle for widespread adoption of the C-RAN concept.
"Having general purpose hardware and software is the ultimate goal, and all the big, heavy-processing silicon providers will end up there I believe, but right now it's too early to see who will come out as leaders," Gordon Mansfield, chairman of the Small Cell Forum and executive director of small cell solutions and radio access network at AT&T (NYSE:T), told EE Times.
Further, C-RAN technology may be restricted by its high-performance backhaul needs. "It requires extreme low latency and that requires fiber," said Mansfield.
Joe Madden, principal analyst at Mobile Experts, has also cited the C-RAN backhaul hurdle. "If fiber bandwidth is free, then the cost of transport is no big deal, and Cloud RAN is attractive. For most operators around the world, fiber cost is a significant chunk of their operating budget, so we expect most of the market to move toward Small Cells," he wrote in a recent column for FierceBroadbandWireless.
Madden: Cloud RAN or small cells?
Intel working on cloud-based radio access network
Maravedis: Filling fiber up with baseband backhaul