With mobile data traffic growing exponentially and networks moving from coverage- to capacity-centric, operators’ revenues are not keeping pace with the increasing investments and operational expenditures. With that, revenue margins are decreasing and mobile network operators (MNOs) are looking at ways to keep the production cost low.
The production cost of mobile services is driven to a large extent – typically 70% to 75% - by the cost of the radio network. The total cost of ownership goes beyond the initial capital expenditure (CAPEX). It also includes the ongoing operational costs including software licenses and fees, maintenance, repairs, modernization and configuration changes to keep pace with the network growth.
A big talking point in the network infrastructure community over the last months has been Cloud-RAN or Centralized- RAN, or simply “C-RAN”. Whatever you want to call it, C-RAN is definitely a hot topic amongst MNOs and equipment suppliers. It holds some promises of saving costs through reductions in baseband processing and energy consumption. However, with relatively low savings potential, mobile operators’ goal of lowering production cost is still a hard-to-reach reality.
Despite its many varied names, C-RAN is in essence very simple. It is a network architecture, which centralizes all the baseband processing functions for all base stations co-located at a given location or cluster. By moving the common baseband elements of the cells into a shared pool, MNOs can cut some CAPEX.
However, the OPEX savings achieved hereby are limited, as the majority of the infrastructure cost lies with the radio resources or RF modules of the base station. Baseband processing modules only account for less than one third of the total base station cost. Since C-RAN only shares the baseband processing resources, the allocation of valuable radio resources to traffic hot-spots or hot-zones is still a one-to-one static relationship.
RAN Virtualization as well as OPEX
RAN Virtualization through RF Routing does not require an overhaul to existing base station infrastructure. It works with existing centralized or distributed architecture, and also C-RAN.
By virtualizing both, baseband processing and RF modules of the RAN, MNOs can maximize the utilization of their most valuable resource – spectrum. As C-RAN virtualizes only the baseband element of the network, it is a step in the right direction, but falls short of the target. Fully virtualizing the RAN with RF Routing maximizes the utilization of available spectrum, allowing MNOs to allocate capacity where and when it is needed. By sharing a common pool of radio resources, MNOs can distribute the valuable radio resources to traffic hot-spots or hot-zones in a dynamic many-to-many relationship.
With traffic growth and the associated growing capacity needs, the incremental cost for the RF Router option is only a sub-linear increase. This is mainly due to the economies of scale achieved by the multi-bands and -technologies distribution network and most importantly, the capacity routing capability. When adding more mobile operators, frequency bands and even capacity, the radio distribution network of the RF Routing system remains unaffected. The RF Router simply re-distributes the available capacity differently among the connected radio units.
MNOs need a flexible, scalable, reliable and easily deployable solution. RAN Virtualization through RF Routing is completely agnostic to technologies and base station vendors; therefore, MNOs can route any connected base station resources to where and when it is needed. RAN Virtualization is the logical choice for MNOs seeking to utilize the spectrum more efficiently while lowering production costs and improving the user experience.