Cisco, Intel, Red Hat take aim at closed 5G radio systems

'Open vRAN' snugglefest includes India's Tech Mahindra and Reliance Jio

Cisco has used Mobile World Congress 2018 to tout a group of vendors working on open tech for the mobile radio access network.

“Virtual RAN” – Radio Access Network – refers to a shift in base station architecture away from proprietary functions running on vendor-specific base station hardware.

vRAN remakes the mobile network on the principles of the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU's) network function virtualisation (NFV) standards: the base station becomes a minimally-featured radio unit, with baseband, management, and subscriber functions on shared, virtualised, general-purpose computers in the carrier core.

An Open vRAN movement began stirring late in 2017, when Red Hat, vRAN specialist Altiostar, and Indian services outfit Tech Mahindra started working together (Tech Mahindra discusses that arrangement here).

The group Cisco's gathered for the Open vRAN effort includes those three, plus Intel, radio vendor Altiostar, engineering company Aricent, software company Mavenir, Mumbai-based LTE operator Reliance Jio, and 5G and mm-wave developer Phazr.

Tech Mahindra's blog post says mobile network virtualisation efforts to date centre on the packet core and IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem).

Pulling together the group, Cisco's announcement said, will help plug those gaps. The Open vRAN group will therefore work on an “open and modular architecture”.

The group's to-do list includes roadmapping, testing and integration, solution validation, running proofs-of-concept, creating management templates, and transport evolution.

Intel's also been pushing the vRAN for a couple of years. Its prior efforts included a tie-up with China Mobile, Telefonica, and Alcatel-Lucent at Mobile World Congress in 2015.

Intel's contribution at the time was to get its Xeon processors into virtualised baseband units (vBBUs).

Intel's was already working with Altiostar and Mavenir in its Network Builders program, while Red Hat has a long-standing relationship with both Chipzilla and Cisco. ®

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