vRAN: delivering cost savings, driving IoT revenues

The IoT – and IIoT in particular – is creating massive opportunities for business in a number of vertical sectors, as well as entire smart cities. Operators have to adapt their networks to cater for the specific demands of each IoT deployment, and as such, we’re seeing the adoption of new, flexible architecture.

Traditionally, rigid network architecture meant operators could only upgrade and replace hardware from the same vendor. As such, the same few NEMs ruled the market, and only the largest operators – which could afford to develop and maintain networks – to benefit.

This is changing. The market is opening up, new players are entering the scene, and networks will soon be built from best-in-breed solutions, tailored to the needs of the operator. This is all thanks to vRAN.

What is vRAN?

vRAN (virtualised radio access network) is a virtualised network architecture built on commercial off-the-shelf hardware and incorporating open interfaces. Supporting a mixture of different hardware and software (and without the constraints of vendor lock-in), vRAN architectures mean operators can build and upgrade their networks more quickly, easily, and affordably.

The resulting networks are flexible, energy- and cost-efficient, and can be easily scaled. Software is built into network hardware, so instead of having to replace network elements every few years, operators can simply run a software upgrade.

The softwarisation of architectures also allows for more flexible and dynamic networks, which can be reconfigured to support the growth of smart cities, the IoT, IIoT and the huge, diverse, range of 5G use cases these will include. Once the preserve of a few major telecoms players, the market is opening up: in Germany, for instance, we’re already seeing industrial giants and automotive manufacturers looking to acquire regional 5G licences to build their own dedicated networks in next-generation factories and other facilities. This is part of the country’s Industrie 4.0 drive to modernise and automate manufacturing, and is a model likely to be replicated globally in the near future.

New cost considerations

Suddenly, questions around network costs and longevity are no longer being asked by operators: they’re being considered by venue owners and governing bodies of towns and cities. Cellular data at ever-lower prices will be expected by these parties and end-users complicating the operators’ traditional business model.

It will enable the creation of networks which deliver increased throughput, greater bandwidth and support multiple frequencies and operators. Integrating real-time analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies into these architectures will also help to create the self-optimising network infrastructures of the future.

When can we expect to arrive at this ‘future’? With industry-wide collaboration, infrastructure-sharing by operators, and buy-in from key stakeholders, we hope to see developments in the vRAN space over the coming year. Cobham Wireless is championing this evolution; we have a long history of supporting flexible RAN architectures, and of supporting the industry to realise and monetise IoT connectivity.

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