“vRAN” Is Becoming a Key Focus for Developers of 5G Radio Units

December 14, 2020 by Antonio Anzaldua Jr.

With an influx of 5G devices, telecom companies, specifically those aligned with the O-RAN Alliance, are further developing virtualized radio access networks.

O-RAN, or open radio access networks, allows RF and communication designers to speed up 5G networks through an open architecture. The radio designs these engineers undertake often involve power dissipation and thermal management of stations. Remote radio units can be an important factor in this effort. With 5G networks depending on larger bandwidth, it is critical for developers to establish an open-interfaced, intelligent architecture. 

The O-RAN interface specifications are global standards that guide the telecom industry toward customizable and intelligent platforms. All base stations and radio units must comply with O-RAN specifications that are in agreement with the O-RAN Alliance. 


Block diagram of NXP’s 5G radio units (RUs)

Block diagram of NXP’s 5G radio units (RUs). Image used courtesy of NXP Semiconductors


While the O-RAN Alliance has been around for two years now, the second half of 2020 has seen some notable hardware- and software-level achievements from this organization. Specifically, many semiconductor companies that are part of the O-RAN Alliance have been investing in virtualized radio access networks (vRAN) innovation. 


What Is vRAN?

The O-RAN Alliance considers virtualized radio access networks (vRAN) the next step in evolving cellular networks. vRAN is an implementation of the RAN with a flexible architecture that virtualizes network functions in software platforms. This is key to transforming typical networks from hardware- to software-based.

Not only is a vRAN solution a cost-effective route but it also gives designers granular control of network resources. Implementing vRAN separates network functions from the underlying hardware and takes them to servers at a central location, which can create a flexible RAN environment. 


Benetel’s Hardline Base Station Addresses 5G Influx

Since 2001, Benetel has been developing radio communication solutions to revamp base station designs to meet the demands of the increasing RF and antenna markets. To address the recent influx of 5G devices, Benetel has launched BNTL-RAN550, an O-RAN 10G ethernet port radio unit for indoor usage.

This setup offers 100 MHz of bandwidth while only outputting 250 mW of power. There are two ethernet ports and a built-in antenna to support the 5G network up to 3.8 GHz.


Benetel’s BNTL-RAN550

Benetel’s BNTL-RAN550 is a part of a growing 5G O-RAN portfolio that will benefit mobile network operators through secure, multicore processors. Image used courtesy of Benetel


The CEO of Benetel, Adrian O’Connor discussed Benetel’s newest radio unit, explaining that "this latest member of our continuously expanding RU product family underlines the ongoing commitment that Benetel has made to stimulating innovation within the 5G ecosystem."

Marvell Releases O-RAN and vRAN Platforms

There are now more manufacturers and developers invested in vRAN solutions than ever before. Earlier this month, carrier architects and data infrastructure designers at Marvell introduced end-to-end O-RAN and vRAN platforms as a part of their 5G O-RAN portfolio.

Marvell’s base stations are equipped with OCTEON Fusion baseband processors and multicore DPUs. These devices offer cloud compatibility and 200 MHz bandwidth channels. 


Marvell’s baseband processors

Marvell’s baseband processors can be found in both virtual and distributed units. The Arm-based processor brings 15 Gbps worth of capacity, which can enhance digital download speeds. Image used courtesy of Marvell


Raj Singh, the executive VP and general manager of Marvell's processor business group, claims Marvell's solutions will address the challenges faced by current architectures.

"Marvell's O-RAN platform leverages our industry-leading baseband DPU, switch, and Ethernet products," he explains. "The platform provides our customers with high-performance, low-power, and programmable solutions that offer a seamless path to commercial 5G open RAN and vRAN market segments."


Fujitsu Uses vRAN to Support Local Telecom

Fujitsu, a Japanese information and communication technology company, has been targeting real-world use cases, including autonomous driving and smart factories utilizing 5G. From developing its first RAN infrastructure in 1995 to establishing a 5G radio unit in 2019, Fujitsu has made a visible impact in O-RAN solutions.

Near mid-2021, Fujitsu estimates that it will deliver vRAN base stations to improve KDDI’s 5G Commerical Service. KDDI Corporation is a leading telecommunication provider in Japan. Fujitsu’s line of vRAN base stations is projected to improve antenna design, enhance beamforming, and provide low power consumption. 


Fujitsu’s vRAN based configuration

Fujitsu’s vRAN based configuration shows how wireless technologies will thrive on becoming cloud-oriented to handle the increasing data that will flood broadband networks. Image used courtesy of Fujitsu


Toshikazu Yokai, an executive officer at KDDI Corporation, stated, "KDDI aims to provide flexible end-to-end network slicing services with 5G network. We expect that Fujitsu's Radio Unit that is O-RAN (Open Interfaces) compliant will contribute significantly to the realization of this plan.” 


vRAN: More Sustainable Than Hardware Systems?

Each developer mentioned here has presented an O-RAN or vRAN solution that is O-RAN Alliance-compliant. Virtualized radio access networks are said to be more sustainable than hardware-based systems (and less labor-intensive on designers in the telecom space, too).

Companies like Marvell and Fujitsu are adding vRAN to their portfolios in anticipation of an uptick in data traffic in the future.