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In this post: 

  • Learn about how increasing numbers of service providers are deploying a 5G architecture

  • How service providers have made significant progress in both vRAN planning and actual deployments compared to 2019

  • Why service providers are embracing horizontal cloud platforms over vertically integrated solutions


5G standalone (SA) architecture defined by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), brings the promise of new and diverse use cases benefitting from enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine type communications (mMTC), and ultra-reliable low latency communications (uRLLC) services defined in the standard. 

As a telecommunications operator,  how do you begin to deploy or plan for 5G SA rollout? This post will highlight some key insights reported by service providers who are at different points in their network transformation journeys. The insights illustrate how an evolved radio access network (RAN) will help realize these multiple use cases, and why it should be seen as fundamental to service providers’ 5G transformation efforts.

Evolving the RAN

A number of service providers have already deployed a 5G non-standalone (NSA) architecture, where 5G radios are introduced with existing 4G radios connected to an virtual evolved packet core (vEPC). 

Increasing numbers of adoptees are deploying a 5G SA architecture, where the 5G radios are connected to a 5G core. Service providers are also looking at evolving their RAN. This could mean virtualizing the RAN (vRAN) or moving to an Open RAN (O-RAN) as defined by the O-RAN Alliance, or doing both, as they see an opportunity to reduce costs, increase resource flexibility and unlock wider choice among RAN function vendors.

In a report from Heavy Reading based on a survey of respondents from 77 CSPs, the steady uptick of service providers evolving their RAN has been significant, with the following observations: 

  • 50% of service providers have deployed a vRAN in over a quarter of their network compared to the fourth quarter of 2019, when only 35% of respondents had achieved the same rollout.

  • vRAN deployment has doubled in service provider 4G-only networks and vRAN in service provider 5G-only networks has increased by 66% since the survey in Q4 of 2019. 

  • By the end of 2023 , the above numbers are expected to be flipped, with the majority of service providers deploying vRAN into both their 4G and 5G networks and not 4G alone.

The advantages of a vRAN and barriers to achievement 

The survey identifies cost reduction is a primary benefit service providers expect to achieve of an evolved RAN. Performance and reliability are also noted as two other key attributes carriers consider when choosing vRAN solutions. 

However, vRAN is not a panacea. The capability for highly automated deployment and subsequent operations will help overcome barriers to achieving maximum benefits. Service providers pointed to uncertain return-on-investment (ROI), multi-access edge computing (MEC) and vRAN orchestration as barriers to vRAN adoption. Interestingly, in spite of the barriers, service providers have made significant progress in both vRAN planning and actual deployments compared to 2019. 

Moving to cloud-native network functions (CNFs)

The vast majority of service providers invested in network functions virtualization (NFV) as they began their digital transformation journey. Software applications continue to evolve to container-based architectures, overcoming certain limitations of virtual machines (VMs) and providing easier implementation and more effective orchestration and management and operational capabilities. 

Service providers now realize the role and benefits of cloud-native network functions (CNFs) and container-based cloud platforms as the means to advance their infrastructures. Benefits include features and efficiency, automation, scalability, and flexibility that will help further lower overall costs. Respondents confirmed their rollout of 5G services would utilize container-based 5G infrastructure, with three-quarters of those respondents indicating the use of container-based platforms in over 25% of their networks by 2022.

Horizontal rather than vertical

As service providers' experience with network transformation grows, they are embracing horizontal cloud platforms over vertically integrated solutions. The increased flexibility provided by containers, coupled with automation, can take full advantage of horizontal platforms. 

A common cloud-native application platform deployed across any footprint and any cloud provides a simplified operational model and allows greater choice of CNFs. This is important to fit service providers’ business needs and to deploy and scale where needed, so they can make future additions and changes more easily. A Kuberenetes-based platform offers other direct benefits for RAN workloads, such as reduced latency, higher throughput and precision timing. 

Closing remarks and where Red Hat can help

In summary, service providers are evolving their RAN to deliver new 5G services that are adaptable, scalable and efficient. Successful vRAN deployments will build upon a telco-grade container platform solution that takes automation and flexibility to the next level. With that, disaggregated vRAN architectures can be optimized to deliver the lowest latency and highest performance.  

This infrastructure needs to be a consistent cloud-native platform that can support multiple RAN functions and that spans the entire service provider network from edge to core to cloud. Red Hat OpenShift is an application platform that not only boosts developer productivity but can orchestrate both containers and VMs in production environments. 

Red Hat OpenShift helps simplify workflows and reduce overall total cost of ownership (TCO). As an answer to ever-changing marketplace demands, Red Hat’s extensive partner ecosystem provides choices to select software functions and hardware from multiple vendors, while accommodating present needs and anticipating those in the future.

To learn more, download the complete Heavy Reading study, "The journey to virtualized RAN: Insights 2021" and see the Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform.


About the author

Rob McManus is a Principal Product Marketing Manager at Red Hat. McManus is an adept member of complex matrix-style teams tasked to define and position telecommunication service provider and partner solutions with a focus on network transformation that includes 5G, vRAN and the evolution to cloud-native network functions (CNFs).

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