By Dr Doug Pulley, Chief Solutions Architect, Picocom.

  1. RAN Diversity isn’t just about more vendors…

For various reasons, operators want to see a wider choice of suppliers of mobile infrastructure. That has meant that most of the industry discussions about Open RAN have focussed on one outcome: increased vendor diversity. Our industry would benefit from a more diverse cast list of RAN actors, but there is much more to achieving diversity than seeing a few more names in the supply chain. Disaggregated RAN architectures enable a variety of deployment approaches that can help deliver the best user experience.

  1. We’re seeing diversity increase on many planes…

Network and business requirements are becoming increasingly diverse. To use new spectrum resources, equipment must be flexible enough to support an increasing range of bands, from sub 1 GHz up to mmWave, from licensed to unlicensed, shared to dedicated bands, often presenting in different combinations in different countries. Network equipment must also support different generations of mobile networks, from 2G right through to 5G. To monetise 5G rollouts, operators are targeting the provision of services with differing latency and throughput requirements for different use cases. To meet those use cases, they face an increasing diversity of deployment environments and capacity demands, with indoor, dense urban, transport networks, and rural and suburban areas all presenting very different coverage and cost profiles. Finally, how mobile networks are funded, deployed, owned and operated is changing. With the advent and growth of neutral host models, managed network-as-a-service, and private networks in unlicensed shared and dedicated spectrum, equipment vendors must be aware of the need to be able to support a range of deployment architectures.

  1. Small cells themselves are diverse…

Within the diverse fabric of a mobile network, small cells are often proposed as a solution to meet a few limited requirements and are often viewed as a homogenous product segment. But even within the small cells sector, there is a lot of diversity in features, capabilities and architecture. Whilst a small cell is merely a cell with a short coverage radius, features might include support for different spectrum bands, user numbers and power levels. Architectural diversity relates to how a disaggregated small cell implements functional splits for RAN processing – with associated fronthaul and backhaul requirements. Small cells are also being deployed in an increasingly diverse operational environment, such as private, neutral host or operator-provider enterprise networks. And 3GPP doesn’t sleep, there will only be more features and requirements on the roadmap. Therefore, small cell developers factor in all these variables.

  1. A diverse environment demands an efficient response

Operators and their suppliers need to be able to meet those diverse requirements economically and efficiently. Operators need a RAN that matches the environment, moulding itself to the world’s demands around it. That means having access to solutions that can fit different network architectures, deployment situations and diverse use cases. That means relying on a diversity of optimised systems to support those solutions. Developers cannot design a different solution, end-to-end, for every instance, nor can they adopt a one-size-fits-all approach based on a rigid, inflexible subsystem.

  1. Flexible silicon solutions can provide the answer…

The feedback we receive is that there needs to be silicon available to enable a more diverse range of solutions that companies can mould to the service and deployment requirements. Larger OEMs use their own silicon designs, and these are unavailable to others that would seek to support the operators’ strategic desire for open networks. Our raison d’être has been architecting something that spans as many permutations as possible with one piece of silicon and still achieves the right cost point and low power you would expect of an optimised system-on-chip approach.

  1. Silicon plus software design meets the task…

We can enable multiplying diversity by applying good semiconductor economics. We empower new vendors to come in and design products based on an architecture with suitable interfaces that can support flexible solutions. Supporting a higher or lower PHY split is an example: we use the same silicon to support the higher or lower split, differentiated through the specific software build. That gives the system developer a common platform and the flexibility to meet the diverse demands of the industry.

  1. RAN diversity can be real… here’s how.

Achieving RAN vendor diversity is a strategic driver for MNOs right now. Still, it must be underpinned by silicon solutions that allow vendors to provide optimised solutions at the right cost points and power consumption levels. By supporting a disaggregated and open architecture, flexible silicon solutions can underpin the end goal of vendor diversity.

Picocom has built and will continue to provide an optimised but flexible silicon and software solution to enable operators to satisfy their diverse network requirements and take advantage of a more diverse supplier market.

As appeared in The Mobile Network (TMN), Small Cells World Summit (SCWS) special issue, in May 2022.

Original Source The Mobile Network magazine.