An automated, platform-based approach to RAN virtualization is key to achieving its benefits

06 December 2021 | Research

Caroline Chappell

Perspective | PDF (13 pages) | Cloud Infrastructure Strategies

"Operators must leverage the automation capabilities of a cloud-native virtualized RAN, which enables every software component in it to be automated and managed in the same way using the same platform-based tools."


Mobile network operators (MNOs) worldwide have been slow to virtualize the radio access network (RAN) because of its stringent performance requirements and complexity. However, they are now turning their attention to this expensive and demanding area of the network in search of the types of benefits that telecoms operators are beginning to experience in other network domains, including lower total cost of ownership (TCO), greater agility in scaling capacity and the prospect of increased and faster service innovation in future. 

RAN virtualization is being enabled by the confluence of emerging open standards that support its functional disaggregation (into central, distributed and radio units) with new technologies that facilitate its technical disaggregation (separating RAN software from proprietary hardware). This new, open, interface-based approach to RAN virtualization is now possible because cloud-native technologies are more amenable to automation than the previous set of technologies used for network function virtualization (NFV). Software for the virtualized RAN (vRAN) is currently being developed – or re-developed – in a cloud-native way as microservices destined for containers running on commodity, cloud-native infrastructure. Automation (orchestration) is an inseparable consequence of using modern software design and cloud-native technologies to develop and deploy virtualized RAN functions. Zero-touch automation, using standard cloud-native tooling and approaches, is key to achieving the benefits that MNOs expect from a virtualized RAN, particularly improved agility and innovation, although automation’s role in reducing opex is also important. Together, technical disaggregation, open interfaces and automation make the business case for RAN virtualization. 

This paper explains how the provider of the cloud platform on which a virtualized and open RAN will run will play a critical role in zero-touch automation. The cloud platform provider will be the source of the tooling on which such automation will be built, so operators are advised to select their RAN platform carefully. They should pay attention to the cloud platform provider’s level of support for industry-leading, open-source DevOps tooling, its track record of working with MNOs and network function vendors on network virtualization programmes and its experience and expertise around cloud-native automation.

An automated, platform-based approach to RAN virtualization is key to achieving its benefits