The 5G network is being designed from the ground up with virtualization in mind, according to Alok Shah, vice president, Networks Strategy, Business Development and Marketing at Samsung Electronics America. That’s not just in the core but all the way into the radio.
“Our commercial radio base station, the access unit—it supports physical layer and MAC layer functionality but a lot of the traditional RAN functionality is back at the data center in a virtualized architecture,” he told Fierce.
The architecture actually starts with the data center. The 5G RAN is a virtualized RAN so some components sit in the data center and the access units sit on pole tops in neighborhoods. A lot of it depends on how a carrier architects its individual network, but “we expect regional data centers and then sort of a centralized data center, perhaps for the core,” he said.
On top of that, edge computing platforms are coming online and those may be closer to the edge but there also will be virtualized platforms where engineers are dropping in computation based on the usage in that area.
Samsung is an active contributor in the xRAN Forum Fronthaul Working Group that released its initial specification last month. The xRAN Forum was founded in June of 2016 by AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, SK Telecom and Stanford University Professor Sachin Katti to promote a software-based, extensible Radio Access Network (xRAN) and to standardize critical elements of the xRAN architecture. According to Shah, Samsung has long believed in the importance of open ecosystems. It also participated in Verizon’s Open RAN initiative as part of its role as a new 4G LTE macro vendor.
Of course, everyone wants to be first with 5G, including the U.S. and Samsung’s home turf of South Korea. So what’s Shah’s view on the race to 5G?
As a supplier, he said, it’s a good problem to have so much interest globally in accelerating 5G because all your customers want to be first and that creates a lot of business. Samsung was an early participant in Verizon’s 5G Technical Forum (5GTF) that allows Verizon to move ahead on 5G before the final 3GPP 5G New Radio version of the standard is completed. The Non-Standalone (NSA) version of 5G NR was ratified in December 2017 and the Standalone (SA) version is expected in June.
“At this point it’s really too hard to tell who will be first with 5G NR,” he said. “All I can say is I think the U.S. will clearly be first with the prestandard implementation,” and the U.S. operators that choose to come out of the gate and establish that business footprint with 5G TF have an opportunity to get out there first.
“It’s not necessarily that it’s critically important for a particular country to be first just for the sake of being first,” he said. “I think it’s important to be first and to be early out of the gate because of the ecosystem that builds around it,” especially when you think of the applications around enterprise and business use cases where it’s important for operators, equipment vendors and enterprises to have the networks in place so they can innovate the use cases. “That’s why you don’t want to be left behind.”