According to media reports, Nokia announced that after a successful trial, its 5G AirScale Cloud RAN solution based on vRAN 2.0 will be “commercially available” this year. However, a wider release will take place in 2021. The company said that the new 5G vRAN function will be compatible with the O-RAN interface specification. This means that Nokia will become one of the first companies to launch the Open RAN 5G product line.
Nokia said in a statement that the company has successfully completed a series of customer trials of the 5G Airscale Cloud RAN solution based on vRAN 2.0. This paves the way for the first commercial release of this year and wider application in 2021.
The company’s cooperation with Japanese operator KDDI facilitated this development. KDDI said last month that the operator is testing its virtualized 5G RAN equipment with Nokia.
Nokia explained that this cloud system introduces a virtualized distribution unit. It also provides a fronthaul gateway to provide a fully clouded and decoupled 5G base station.
“This solution can help operators generate revenue from new 5G services and achieve flexible end-to-end network slicing. They will also meet the needs of IoT and bringing the overall advantages of cloud computing to RAN.”
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According to Nokia, the system aims at the “architecture” of Open RAN. It splits the base station into radio frequency electrical units (RU), distribution units (DU), wireless access points (RAP, a combination of RU and DU), and centralized units (CU ). It also includes the concept of the RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) to use artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to optimize radio and system performance.
A major move by Nokia to promote the development of Open RAN
Specifically, vRAN version 2.0 adds a virtualization distribution unit (vDU) to the existing virtualization centralized unit (vCU). Nokia has also developed a fronthaul gateway that can be used with Nokia’s RF units or other equipment vendors. The vDU and fronthaul gateway can run on Nokia’s x86-based AirFrame Open Edge Servers and AirFrame Rackmount Servers like vCU.
The interfaces between these split baseband units (vCU/vDU) and between vDU and remote radio units will support the O-RAN specification. This means that in theory, operators can buy pure Nokia Airscale and remote radio frequency unit and antenna unit solutions. Alternatively, they can mix suppliers from different fields.
According to reports, its vDU uses Intel FPGA-based Vista Creek hardware acceleration to process some real-time sensitive L1 calculations in the vDU. Nokia will integrate GPU-based acceleration in vDU by 2022, which is a development consistent with vRAN 3.0.
Michael Clever, senior vice president of Nokia Mobile Networks and head of the Cloud RAN edge cloud platform, said that using FPGA-based accelerator cards can fully complete L1 processing – such as FEC (forward error correction) or LDPC (low-density parity-check) encoding.
Michael Clever said, “GPUs still need a lot of development work to adapt to this particular L1 use case. However, they are expected to provide additional features, such as integration with AI/machine learning-based functions and services. But it will take some time, we expect FPGA-based accelerator card solutions will not dominate until at least 2022.”
The commercial release of the 5G Airscale Cloud RAN solution represents a major move by Nokia to promote the development of Open RAN. The technology is expected to achieve a major shift from traditional hardware to virtualized infrastructure.