To Speed Up 5G Deployment, Samsung and Intel Expand vRAN Collaboration

August 10, 2023 by Duane Benson

Samsung is integrating its latest release, vRAN 3.0, with 4th-gen Intel Xeon scalable processors to hasten 5G improvements and deployment.

Samsung, one of the leading providers of virtual radio access network (vRAN) infrastructure, has expanded its agreement with Intel to further implement vRAN. The two companies have been collaborating since 2017 with Samsung vRAN operating on Intel’s 3rd-generation Xeon Scalable processors since that time. In the expanded arrangement, Samsung’s newest version, vRAN 3.0, will be integrated with Intel’s newest, 4th-generation Xeon Scalable processors with Intel vRAN Boost to increase the capacity and performance of 5G networks.


Intel 4th Gen Xeon Scalable processors with Intel vRAN Boost

Intel 4th-gen Xeon Scalable processors with Intel vRAN Boost. Image used courtesy of Intel

The Intel 4th-generation processors deliver twice the computing capacity for the same power envelope as the prior generation. vRAN Boost integrates RAN acceleration into the CPU architecture, eliminating the need for external vRAN accelerator cards or modules.


vRAN and the Cellular Infrastructure

Radio access networks (RAN) are the radio transceivers on cell towers and computing equipment that connect cell traffic to the internet. RAN specifically connects a cellular device, such as a mobile phone, to the internet and to other cellular devices. 4G, LTE, 5G, and the like are designations for the generation of RAN used for cellular access.

In the earliest versions of RAN, each cell tower used custom hardware and software and acted as an individual radio base station (BTS) for the cellular network. BTSes were connected via telecom backhaul to the common network. The follow-on to dedicated BTS hardware, cloud radio access network (C-RAN) architecture, moves the expensive high-performance computing layer to centralized locations up to 20 km away from the tower.


Early distributed RAN vs. Cloud RAN architecture

Early distributed RAN vs. cloud RAN architecture. Image used courtesy of LambdaGain


Virtual radio access networks (vRAN) are the next step in this evolution and disconnect the RAN software versioning from the hardware design. vRAN uses universal hardware rather than custom solutions for network access. If the vRAN initiatives are successful, then 5G improvements won’t require new hardware, just an improved software layer. New hardware can come online to deliver improved 5G performance and be ready for the next infrastructure version before the software is released.


What vRAN Means for 5G Innovation

Today, 5G is still in its infancy as the primary cellular network system. That means many improvements are on the way before the next cellular generation, 6G, appears. vRAN stands to dramatically reduce the cost of deployment for these intermediate upgrades because it can upgrade the operating system without changing out existing hardware. Further cellular generations will undoubtedly use vRAN, allowing developers to install next-gen hardware before new protocols are standardized.


Samsung's vRAN evolution

Samsung's vRAN evolution. Image used courtesy of Samsung

With vRAN deployment, RAN hardware and software can progress independently, without innovations on one side being held up by the other. This will speed up network improvements because new, higher-performing hardware can be installed without major software changes. On the flip side, expensive hardware installations will not be artificially life-limited when new software versions must be deployed.


Intel and Samsung Extend vRAN Collab

Intel and Samsung have completed interoperability tests with the Samsung vRAN operating on 4th-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processors equipped with Intel vRAN Boost. The companies expect commercial deliveries to start after mid-year 2023. Beyond that, Samsung and Intel plan to collaboratively develop the next round of vRAN improvements to offer further power reductions, more deployment flexibility, and increased capability.