Aaron Blazar

C-RAN generating new business opportunities

As featured in RCRWireless

Wireless operators in today’s market face increasing pressure on the top line as price competition continues to ramp up. At the same time, network performance expectations among consumers remain high as usage continues to grow, leaving operators looking for more cost-efficient network solutions. Over the past year, cloud radio access network or centralized radio access network has emerged prominently in discussions centered on solutions for enabling high-performance dense metro networks to more efficiently utilize spectrum.

C-RAN represents the latest frontier in operators’ efforts to cost-effectively add density to metro networks by changing the fundamental architecture of the cell site. C-RAN moves the traditional radio access equipment from macro cells to a centralized location that manages multiple remote radio heads through fiber feeds. This hub-and-spoke approach leverages the common public radio interface protocol to deliver low-latency, dark fiber connections between the hub site and the radio head, enabling a highly efficient method of deploying hyperdense network coverage while more efficiently using spectrum resources.

In deploying C-RAN-based networks, operators face several key considerations:

• Since using the CPRI protocol to minimize latency between radio heads and RAN subsites requires fiber connectivity, C-RAN networks require access to robust fiber networks.

• The hub sites look and feel like very small co-location facilities with equipment requiring connectivity, space and power. Moving forward, these hub sites may be more than just places to house gear, enabling operators to bring the interconnection of end-user applications closer to the edge.

• Since the infrastructure requirements of C-RAN deployments are not unique, opportunities exist for operators to leverage existing assets in many metro areas.

In the long-term, wireless operators will migrate dense metro networks to the C-RAN network topology. This will generate new opportunities for many types of telecom infrastructure providers.

Fiber operators with dense metro fiber networks in the top 30 U.S. metros will have strong opportunities as wireless operators look to leverage fiber to deploy C-RAN. Exactly how much density will be required to fully support this network strategy is not known, but in the current state, wireless operators will need dense networks that are rich in fiber count.

Tower operators also will have opportunities to serve this network model through a combination of traditional site needs and through the development of localized RAN equipment locations. The placement of large numbers of remote radio heads within tight geographic areas will generate demand for attachment leases in new locations. Tower companies also may have similar business opportunities around C-RAN equipment locations via their strong relationships with building owners, enabling the location and acquisition of space to house C-RAN hub sites.

C-RAN deployments will present a large pool of new opportunities for traditional and new entrant infrastructure providers due to the ongoing need for new sites, more equipment and more fiber.

C-RAN adoption will remain at the forefront of business development and network engineering initiatives this year and into the future as operators continue to tackle ongoing – and increasing – needs for dense, high-capacity wireless networks. The densification of wireless networks continues to present significant near- and long-term opportunities for infrastructure providers, equipment vendors and a host of other network support vendors. In order to be successful in this space, all players must understand the highly localized nature of infrastructure requirements, as well as current and future demand, in order to properly position their firms to help wireless operators meet the needs of ever-increasing end-user demand for broader, faster and more responsive connectivity.