IHS: China fuels $5B C-RAN market

The global centralized RAN (C-RAN) market remains mainly driven by Asia Pacific, with China now in the driver's seat thanks to China Mobile's and China Unicom's C-RAN deployments, according to IHS Technology. Global C-RAN architecture equipment revenue reached $5 billion in 2015, a gain of 18 percent from $4.3 billion in 2014. 

It's unclear if U.S. operators will ever get on board in a big way. Sprint (NYSE: S) expressed the most interest about two years ago, willing to deploy C-RAN as a RAN extension of its existing footprint, but it has not deployed anything yet, according to Stéphane Téral, senior research director of mobile infrastructure and carrier economics at IHS Technology, who recently released the C-RAN Architecture Equipment Annual Market Report.

Both AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) are looking at C-RAN, but Téral doesn't think they're ready to change their existing RAN structure that is working so well, he told FierceWirelessTech. Such a move would be a major endeavor. Now with Verizon pushing 5G, there might be some tweaks in the works, but it's still unclear, he said.

Worldwide, the picture is much clearer, and operators are deploying C-RAN architectures to bring simplicity, agility, flexibility and efficiency to mobile networks. However, it's nowhere more apparent than in Asia Pacific, where China has overtaken Japan in C-RAN deployments, Téral said.

In 2015, China Mobile and China Unicom managed to convince their government that C-RAN was the right way to go to achieve energy savings of about 60 percent and have a green footprint. The Chinese operators have aggressive 5G research and development initiatives that include C-RAN. China Mobile has deployed C-RAN in three cities and one province, which led to a rollout of 2,000 sites.

A few C-RAN deployments also happened in Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMEA) and Canada in 2015.

Nokia Networks (NYSE:NOK) once again led the C-RAN market in 2015, and Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) remained in second place, but Huawei gained 4 percentage points year-over-year to move into third place, displacing Samsung, IHS said.

In 2016, IHS expects more C-RAN rollouts in China, along with a few in CALA (Caribbean and Latin America) and Europe, where operators will start to adopt C-RAN as a means to expand their existing footprints by connecting remote radio heads (RRHs) to BBUs of installed base transceiver stations (BTSs).

Worldwide C-RAN architecture revenue is forecast to top $12 billion in 2020 – a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.8 percent from 2015 to 2020 – primarily driven by RAN expansion in the west and the beginning of 5G rollouts in Japan and South Korea.

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