An Overview of a Virtualized Radio Access Network

A vRAN, also known as a virtualized radio access network, supports 5G telecom with separate hardware and software elements. There is also no need for proprietary hardware in a vRAN. There are also multiple ways to configure a vRAN and a variety of benefits to utilizing them.


How do vRANs Function?


Virtualized radio access networks are a key part of connecting private or public mobile networks to radio devices and facilitating wireless communication. In most instances, they run at high speeds across wireless backhaul or fiber. This aspect of vRAN architecture also makes it possible to access network resources on a mobile device from nearly any location.


While the basic setup is still the same, some aspects of traditional RANs have been adapted and improved. However, there are no universal standards for some system elements, making some parts of the traditional model less than optimal. Virtual RANs enable faster communication without considering the type of hardware in place.


The Difference Between RANs and vRANs


Virtualization works for vRANs much as it works for virtual computer machines. Users benefit from full system resources no matter what hardware they’re using. This allows more vendor compatibility, more efficient routing, and tighter control of cellular 5G resources.


More and more devices, including those in the Internet of Things, are utilizing 5G, increasing demand for that quality of service. It’s easier for devices to talk to each other by largely taking hardware out of the equation. This type of network is also more scalable than a hardware-dependent telecom network.


Are there Other Kinds of RANs?


RANs and vRANs are not the only types of telecom architecture out there. Several others exist, each with its own set of features and benefits, and drawbacks.


Evolved Universal Terrestrial RAN (E-UTRAN) was optimized for packet data and is known for fast data transfers and low latency. It also made widespread implementation of LTE possible. With orthogonal frequency-division multiple access modulation, it heavily cuts down on interference.


Cloud computing comes heavily into play for cloud-RAN (C-RAN). It implemented cutting-edge technology such as Common Public Radio Interface, supporting communication over greater distances. It was also the first cellular network to improve network performance via IT infrastructure.


Finally, Open RAN (ORAN) utilizes open-sourced hardware and software to support free and easy communication between networks without reliance on outside vendors.


What Makes Up a RAN?


RAN and vRAN architecture varies from type to type; however, most consist of several common elements


Radios: Virtually all RANs include radios which broadcast cellular signals by converting digital transmissions into radio waves. Multiple radio frequencies and power levels boost the signal as needed depending on communication needs.


Antennas: An antenna focuses and directs the signal to achieve optimal transmission. There are large and small antennas and those designed for outdoor rather than indoor use.


Baseband Units: These process data as it travels in and out of the RAN. They also handle signals from remote radio units. Pools of BBU run across fiber or microwave signals and make managing cellular resources easier. They can also be centralized at a data center or in the cloud.


Benefits of Virtual RAN 5G


Using a virtualized radio access network improves visibility and gives telecom professionals more control over their network and resources. It allows them to set up the network as they see fit without meeting vendor-specific hardware specifications, saving time and costs on managing infrastructure.


Remaining Challenges


Even with all the benefits of vRANs and the latest developments, some improvements are still possible and necessary. Open RAN standards are not workable in the large RANs used in many modern enterprises. Errors are also likely when attempting to integrate resources between vendors, slowing down communication. Efforts are being made to increase transparency and make different vendor systems work together more smoothly. This is a key reason that using vRAN and foregoing vendor-specific hardware makes it much easier for a company to build its own private virtual RAN 5G network.

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