Unlike SDN (software-defined Networking) of NFV (network functions virtualization), C-RAN might the hottest wireless acronym you've never heard of. C-RAN stands for Cloud RAN (radio access network) as well as the less catchy Centralized RAN. In either case, C-RAN leverages distributed base station architecture to enable a host of benefits, such as capex and opex savings, increased asset utilization and savings on energy.
C-RAN separates the radio and antenna parts from the digital baseband path and pools multiple baseband units (BBUs) in a central office, or base station hotel. These digital-only base stations are linked via fiber to remote radio heads (RRHs). Combined with NFV, baseband tasks would be accomplished through the use of general purpose processors and generic server farms, which would link via fiber to a virtual server somewhere in the cloud.
That could enable companies like Intel and IBM to become the suppliers for RAN infrastructure, analysts say, challenging traditional RAN vendors like Ericsson. So far, C-RAN is dominating the advanced wireless markets of Asia, where fiber is abundant and high population densities make the architecture fiscally beneficial. But proponents of the technology believe it could eventually spread around the world. Find out more in this FierceWirelessTech special report.