July 24, 2014 — For the last few years, the radio access node (RAN) camp and the small cell camp have stood on their respective podiums, maintaining they are competing technologies with different architectures. Well, it seems the warring camps have made peace.
Recently, it appears that the cloud — the latest and greatest virtual network platform for everything and anything — is being married to a set of seemingly disparate platforms. As is now being proselytized, this union may just be the best option for the next generation of high-density networks by utilizing baseband pooling and distributed baseband, and enabling LTE Advanced features within these networks.
But wait a minute…small cells offer high-density traffic solutions by using baseband distribution – the exact opposite of C-RAN. So, confused? Me to! So let’s see if we can make sense of this.
C-RAN is a marvelous idea. The idea is to reduce operational cost, by consolidating everything in one location. That has a number of advantages:
• It allows the technician to work more efficiently at maintaining baseband resources.
• It enables easier implementation of LTE-Advanced features, which improve capacity.
• It improves performance by placing multiple RRH units on a single baseband node.
• Financially it is attractive through the use of technologies such as Coordinated Multi-Point (CoMP), which improve throughput by as much as 80 percent at the cell edge for both uplink and downlink.
• Additional savings come from the centralized location of the baseband processing, making upkeep simpler and more efficient.
But wait…small cells are a marvelous idea too! Small cell architecture is designed to reduce the cost bit by distributing the baseband, reducing the cost of the radio hardware and increasing spectral efficiency and overall throughput.
There are other metrics involved in this, of course, but the advantage of C-RAN is that it implements virtualization in a base station system, allows for dynamic allocation of processing resources within a centralized baseband pool to different virtualized base stations, and different air interface standards. This allows the operator to efficiently support the variety of air interfaces, and adjust to the ebbs and tides of different deployment and bandwidth demands. At the same time, the common hardware platform will provide cost effectiveness to manage, maintain, expand and upgrade the base station.
Truth be told, it reads about the same for small cells. Virtualization will be implemented there too, eventually. Well, now we know, and the marriage looks pretty good to me.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of Small Cells magazine.