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What is vRAN?

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Virtualized radio access networks (vRANs) are a way for telecommunications operators to run their baseband functions as software. One of the primary benefits of virtualizing radio access networks (RANs) is that RAN functions no longer require special proprietary hardware to run, and can instead be run on standard servers. This is achieved by applying the principles of virtualization to RAN, and is usually one part of a larger network function virtualization (NFV) effort. Results of a Heavy Reading survey published in 2020 indicate that the following two years will see a sharp uptick in vRAN deployments.

Radio access networks (RANs) are crucial connection points between wireless devices and the rest of an operator's core network. They represent significant overall network capital and operations expenses, perform intensive and complex processing, and continue to face rapidly increasing demand as more edge and 5G use cases emerge for telco customers.

Just as the virtualization of network functions has enabled telcos to modernize their networks, similar principles can also be applied to RAN. This is especially important as the future of the industry focuses on the transition to 5G—in fact, the ongoing 5G network transformation often depends on the virtualization of RAN, and increasingly assumes that it is container-based and cloud-native

Many carriers have lowered their costs and created a more agile infrastructure by deploying a variety of virtual network functions (VNFs), including virtual firewalls, DNS, SBC/IMS, virtual evolved packet cores (vEPCs) for 4G networks, and vRANs.

This approach: 

  • Uses less (and less expensive) hardware. 

  • Increases flexibility. 

  • Provides the ability to spin workloads up and down with minimal effort. 

  • Allows resources to be scaled elastically to address changing network demands. 

The economic benefits of virtualizing network infrastructure can be significant, with the RAN representing an important transformation opportunity. ACG Research estimates that network operators who virtualize the entire RAN can see a total cost of ownership (TCO) savings of 44%.

Red Hat believes telecommunications service providers should adopt a consistent horizontal cloud-native platform hardened for their environments. This telco cloud enables them to use the same infrastructure for multiple use cases and reduce management and operational expenses. In addition to the initial cost benefits of virtualizing the entire RAN, ACG Research also found open horizontal platforms can lower TCO up to 30% when compared to siloed vertically integrated deployments of vRANs. By taking this horizontal approach, customers have access to more choice and better service.

Red Hat’s NFV solution is open source and standards-based, creating a stable, interoperable foundation to build upon. A telco cloud with network functions virtualized on Red Hat OpenStack Platform delivers these benefits:

  • US$462,500 additional revenue per year per virtualized network function (VNF) while reducing operating costs.

  • 45% faster development cycle

  • 79% less unplanned downtime

In addition to virtualization options, communications service providers (CSPs) are embracing cloud-native architectures and containers to increase efficiency, performance, resilience, security, and agility. The architecture of choice is to deploy containers on bare metal without an added layer of virtualization. This option presents significant advantages to their specific use cases. 

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