Verizon confirms it will test and implement virtualized RAN solutions in 2017

Ericsson plans to conduct a number of tests of virtual RAN technology this year, and expects to provide details on its vRAN technology at the upcoming Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain.

Verizon confirmed to FierceWireless that it plans to test and implement virtualized RAN technologies this year. The move is part of a wider effort by the carrier to rework its wireless network design in order to make it more efficient and to save money.

Ericsson confirmed it will participate in Verizon’s tests and deployments of virtual RAN (vRAN) technology in 2017.

“We’ll be working with our partners to test and implement virtualized RAN solutions in 2017,” a Verizon spokesman wrote in an email, without providing details.

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Verizon and Ericsson aren’t the only companies moving toward virtual RAN. SoftBank in Japan and other international carriers have also indicated movements toward the technology. And research firm SNS Telecom predicts that trend will continue: The firm recently forecast that that vRAN deployments will account for a market worth $2.6 billion by 2020.

“The vRAN market is presently at a nascent stage with most investments focused on virtualized small cells for targeted greenfield deployments and pilot engagements for macrocell coverage. However, as mobile operators realize the benefits of RAN virtualization, the market is expected to grow at a CAGR of approximately 125% over the next three-year period,” SNS wrote of its new vRAN report.

SNS explained that a vRAN network essentially separates some or all baseband functions from the remote radio unit and runs them as VNFs (Virtualized Network Functions) on commodity hardware.

“This approach results in multiple operational benefits including but not limited to TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) reduction, performance gains and scalability. In addition, vRAN enables mobile operators to future-proof their networks for 5G upgrades,” the firm wrote.

Ericsson’s Arun Bansal explained that vRAN is essentially a step up from centralized RAN or coordinated RAN. Verizon has already tested centralized RAN technology in San Francisco and has discussed its plans to deploy the technology in Boston.

Related: Verizon, Sprint and others circle the C-RAN wagons

Bansal, SVP and head of business unit radio for Ericsson, said that the “next step of centralized RAN is the virtual RAN. Virtual RAN meaning that you will have hardware you can buy from HP or from anybody and you can put software on that. That drive will happen in 2017.”

He added that Ericsson plans to conduct a number of tests of virtual RAN technology this year, and expects to provide details on its vRAN technology at the upcoming Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain.

“Centralized RAN is, you put all the basebands in a central location so that they can share space, power, efficiency. Coordinated RAN is, you have the baseband maybe at a different location but they're coordinated with each other so you get efficiency gains and everything. But still the hardware and the software is intact,” Bansal explained. “The third aspect is virtual RAN where you split the hardware and the software, for certain hardware functionality on the radio, and the remaining functionality on commercial-grade hardware.”

Thus, virtual RAN follows the wider trend in the wireless industry of replacing expensive, dedicated hardware with software functions running on inexpensive, commodity hardware.