While 5G is a no-brainer when it comes to 2019 predictions, industry CTOs like to point out that LTE still has a long runway, and it will be moving further into new-ish territory with LAA and Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) next year.
Another area ripe for accelerated commercialization in 2019 is virtual Radio Access Network, or vRAN. Nokia’s North America CTO, Mike Murphy, told FierceWirelessTech that things will start moving more broadly in vRAN come next year—maybe not in a huge way, but commercial product will roll out more substantially. Murphy declined to reveal anything specific about operator partners.
Nokia announced earlier this year that it was working with Verizon and Intel to develop Verizon's vRAN 2.0 architecture, designed to bring “everything but the radio network” into the cloud. By October, Verizon’s Bill Stone revealed that the carrier was making significant progress toward implementing vRAN technology on its 5G network, working with its vendors—including Ericsson, Samsung and Nokia—to virtualize the lower layers of its network in addition to the upper layers.
The process of virtualizing the baseband in the RAN is part of a broader trend in the wireless and wider telecom industry in which operators are increasingly looking to move away from expensive, dedicated hardware from traditional suppliers and toward general-purpose computing equipment running software.
Nokia has been an early supporter of the industry’s efforts to open up the RAN; it was the first legacy RAN vendor to join the xRAN Forum, which earlier this year announced its intent to merge with the C-RAN Alliance to form the ORAN Alliance. Murphy said Nokia generally supports the open approach but of course, the devil is in the details. When it gets down to brass tacks, the company will make a technical assessment, and it’s always going to consider what’s good for its business as well.
Meanwhile, Nokia has been a vocal proponent of the need for the U.S. to identify and get midband spectrum out to the masses, first with 3.5 GHz CBRS but more importantly in the big scheme of things, the 3.7-4.2 GHz spectrum, also known as the C-band. Currently, satellite companies use the band to serve video and audio broadcasters who rely on it to distribute content.
Through the C-Band Alliance, the satellite operators have volunteered to pony up about 200 megahertz of their 500 megahertz of spectrum, but mobile industry stakeholders like Nokia have said the real value for that midband spectrum is for each mobile operator to get access to 100 megahertz. C-Band Alliance members have held fast to the notion that they must retain the other 300 megahertz.
Murphy noted that the decision is still the FCC’s to make. Where it gets complicated is that the voluntary model implies that the spectrum could be made available far sooner than if some other model were adopted that involved taking away more of the satellite industry spectrum, which would undoubtedly result in long-drawn-out battles and possible court cases.
“All of us are in a bit of a dilemma in that you can take the easy route and go quickly with a smaller amount of spectrum or if you really want what everybody thinks should be done, that could take a very long time,” like several years, he said. “I don’t think anybody knows where it’s going to end up.”