One year ago Intel and Alcatel-Lucent, a network builder, formed a wireless partnership, and now they are ready to unveil their plan to move the mobile network from the cell tower into the data center. On Monday they revealed a new networking architecture called vRAN.
vRAN moves the processing that drives the mobile network to the cloud, and its servers are running on Intel Xeon processors, which Alcatel-Lucant runs many of the functions of the networks as software on. This concept is being called Cloud-RAN (RAN meaning radio access network), and it has the potential to change how networks are built.
This move is an apprehensive one, due to the highly distributed way mobile networks are designed. All of the processing power of mobile networks is at its fringes, and most of its expense, right under the radios that transmit signal to our phone. Carriers make the most to maximize the capacity of these base stations so they can handle the large demand for mobile data and voice at peak times.
Cloud-RAN would most the baseband processing into a central data center, and carriers could allow capacity to cell towers as needed. It is more efficient to build a network this way, and it could end up with more reliable and faster mobile service for customers. Rather than maxing out cell sites capacity and dropping LTE connections, Cloud-RAN could increase capacity at congested sites.
However, there are some limitations of the Cloud-RAN. Data centers will need to be close to the towers that they serve. Alcatel-Lucant and Intel have managed to push this distance to more than 100 kilometers, or 62 miles. This is far enough to build a virtualized network of thousands of cells.
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