Radio sites are not static! They evolve over time.
To keep up with ever-increasing user demand for more bandwidth, service providers are investing billions of dollars in purchasing more spectrum and deploying new 5G (NR) radios. Equipment vendors continue to introduce innovative features to increase network performance. Mobile traffic is shifting from LTE to 5G as users upgrade to new mobile phones. In fact, by the end of 2027, 5G subscriptions worldwide are expected to reach 4.4 billion, and in North America, over 95% of subscriptions will use 5G.
With all these changes, radio sites must adapt accordingly. Sites whose basebands were initially configured to support multiple radio access technologies at the same time can be optimized for a site with one dedicated baseband supporting LTE and another dedicated baseband supporting 5G. Traditionally, radios are “hardwired” to one baseband, so any changes require an expensive crew to be sent to site to reconnect the radios to another baseband.
5G | LTE | WCDMA/HSPA
Year 2022 – 2027
5G | LTE | WCDMA/HSPA
Year 2022 – 2027
Evolution of Cloud RAN
Another development is the move to Cloud RAN (Radio Access Network) which uses a generic computing platform instead of a hardware platform specifically designed to perform RAN functions. In this scenario, the virtual distributed unit – vDU could run on a generic compute platform, while the virtual centralized unit – vCU could be in a centralized edge compute location. Compute platforms tend to have shorter lifecycles and lower reliability compared to purpose-built hardware. Additionally, the server’s network interface card (NIC) interfaces can scale from 25 Gbps and 100 Gbps interfaces. Radios, on the other hand, tend to stay in the tower for many years and use 10 Gbps to 25 Gbps interfaces. You want the flexibility to aggregate many low-speed radio interfaces into a faster server interface and the ability to connect any radio to any compute platform.
The midnight maintenance window
Service affecting work at sites is performed during the maintenance window, usually between midnight and 4am, when most people are asleep (as they should be). Night shifts have a short window to complete the rewiring of connections at a particular site. This contrasts with the day shift which has twice as much time for work with no downtime on site. Therefore, the efficiency of the day shift team is twice that of the night shift. Multiplied by tens of thousands of radio sites, the result is an operational expense (OpEx) difference of millions of dollars.
The Solution Against Midnight Oil Burning
What if you could re-provision any radio connection to any baseband or vDU – remotely? This means day shifts can prepare sites in advance and night shifts simply restock multiple sites with automated tools – at the same time – remotely. This allows operators to deploy innovative technologies and spectrum at twice the speed at a much lower cost. To do this, we need a new type of product called a Fronthaul Gateway with an integrated switch fabric.
Fronthaul Gateway as a flexible RAN connection
Radio sites are rarely pristine or homogeneous, they may have low band radios using the CPRI common public radio interface and massive MIMO mid band radios using the newer packet-based eCPRI (evolved CPRI) interface. The site can also use a mix of purpose-built LTE basebands and 5G vDUs running on compute platforms.
A fronthaul gateway has the ability to convert all traffic from CPRI radios to eCPRI and merge it with other native eCPRI radio traffic. It actually creates a unique unified eCPRI fabric for all radio traffic. Its other functions are to connect the radio on one side and the baseband/vDUs on the other side, effectively decoupling the physical radio interfaces from the higher capacity baseband/vDU interfaces. It also connects all intra-site traffic and aggregates all inter-site traffic into a single aggregated network interface. A front gateway offers the following advantages:
- Connect any radio to any baseband or vDU
- Connect existing CPRI radios to Cloud RAN vDUs
- Separate LTE and 5G traffic and connect to different basebands/vDUs
- Decouple air interface speeds from faster baseband/vDU interfaces
- Aggregate radio traffic and optimize baseband/vDU efficiency
- Increased resiliency by allowing traffic to fail over to another baseband/vDU
- Easy migration from distributed D-RAN architectures to centralized C-RAN architectures
Be flexible; the secret to a good night’s rest
Deploying a fronthaul gateway allows you to seamlessly adapt your radio site to changing traffic and technology. It gives you the ability to connect any radio to any baseband or vDU Cloud RAN. The best part is that you can do it remotely using automated tools allowing for faster deployment at a much lower cost.
No one can predict the future, but we can prepare for it. Ericsson, with over 133 live 5G deployments, is at the forefront of the latest radio access network developments. This gives us a clear idea of how requirements change as networks evolve.
Give us a call and let’s talk about how using a Front End Gateway as a flexible RAN connection can give you a better night’s rest today and in the future!
More reading from Ericsson
For more information on how Ericsson can help you create an optimized solution for flexible radio sites, please see the links below.