The vendor’s vRAN kit for 5G includes a virtualized central unit, a virtualized distributed unit, and software that allows operators to move from dedicated baseband hardware to general purpose, x86-based servers. The vendor claims its software-based approach matches the performance of its 5G hardware.
Samsung’s 5G virtualized central unit was made commercially available in April 2019, and is currently used by mobile network operators in Korea, Japan, and the U.S. “The distributed unit is now moving to a virtualized architecture,” explained Alok Shah, VP of networks strategy at Samsung’s U.S.-based division.
Stefan Pongratz, VP at Dell’Oro Group views the development as an important step for Samsung and the more widespread shift to vRAN and open RAN. It adds “confidence that the gradual industry migration towards full vRAN with virtualized [central units and distributed units] remains on track,” he said.
“While vRAN by itself is not a game changer, it is an important part of the overall vRAN open RAN roadmap,” Pongratz said.
“This idea of moving the functions into x86-based [commercial off the shelf] servers, just a whole new ecosystem of hardware that’s available that’s easier to upgrade, easier to obtain, easier to spare — there’s just a whole set of ways that the opex can be substantially improved,” Shah told SDxCentral. “Samsung doesn’t build that equipment but our software runs on top of it.”
The vendor still, of course, has a “slate of hardware-based RAN elements,” including its access unit that “takes the 5G radio and the 5G [distributed unit] and it combines them into one box,” Shah said.
“Our recommendation is not that every operator run out and deploy vRAN for every portion of their network. You have to consider the processing requirements that a given function takes based on spectrum, based on bandwidth requirements, and so you have to look at the economics of doing that all in software versus kind of more traditional hardware-based approaches,” he said. “It’s the same calculations that you make for any software.”
The appeal of virtualized network functions (VNFs) also varies based on the spectrum available, according to Shah. “[vRAN] is a better fit for low- and mid-band,” he said. On millimeter-wave (mmWave) networks, dedicated hardware can more cost effectively support the amount of processing required for large swaths of spectrum and at least 1 Gb/s speeds on data throughput, he added. “Just the amount of processing is so high.”
Samsung Readies DSS, Standalone 5G Core, Network Slicing
In the U.S. market, Samsung is a 5G RAN supplier for AT&T, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular. The company also worked with Sprint going back to 2011, and was involved in the operator’s initial limited 5G deployments. But that relationship effectively ended when T-Mobile US acquired Sprint earlier this year. Shah said the company is actively discussing opportunities with T-Mobile US but didn’t provide any updates beyond that.
“I think it’s well understood we’re not targeting global market share dominance. That hasn’t really been Samsung’s network strategy to date,” Shah said, adding that 5G has opened new markets, including Canada and New Zealand, for the company. The company’s network infrastructure started out in the South Korean market, and later expanded into Japan, the U.S., Western Europe, and India.
Samsung could further expand its footprint by supporting open RAN architecture, according to Shah.
“We’ve already done a lot of interoperability work in this area and so you’ll see open RAN components across many of the radios and baseband units in our portfolio as we move forward,” he said. “We’re very supportive of moving forward with this approach and it kind of makes sense, right? We’re a challenger in the market and so for us there’s a real upside opportunity we think to competing on a more level playing field.”
In addition to the vRAN development, the second half of 2020 is shaping up to be a busy period for Samsung as it prepares to make dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS), a standalone (SA) 5G core, and network slicing commercially available before the end of the year, Shah said.
“There is a lot of going. That is absolutely the case. I feel like there has been for some time now. Everybody’s been sprinting as fast as they can lately to get 5G into commercial operation, to get more devices out, and now to bring these kind of architectural enhancements, so it’s an exciting time,” he said.