Virtual infrastructure, real value – Simon Fletcher, CTO, Real Wireless

The C in C-RAN is all about Centralisation, isn’t it? Well, not necessarily. When it more commonly stands for Cloud we can better understand how C-RAN can transform the value creation possibilities of wireless infrastructure, in ways that enable operators, in particular, to feel that their networks are more than just pipes.

This is an urgent consideration. Political and economic groupings (such as the EU) are predictably excited by tapping the potential of future communications services and its place in the evolving digital economy. This digital economy, in case we need reminding, is centred round things like – well, you name it: real-time data, delivery tracking, wearables, preventative healthcare, smart meters and the (potentially) vast savings they can produce and income they can generate.

The so-called eInfrastructure behind this super-smart, super-connected digital future is important; 5G should be part of this eInfrastructure. At the moment, the view of many political institutions seems to be that 5G is simply an incremental infrastructure play beyond today’s 4G and Wi-Fi. That is, it’s just more cost efficient connectivity and not much use if it isn’t transporting something of value – which is where true economic potential lies.

I would like to suggest a different view – that there is value in 5G infrastructure over and above its transport function. Explicitly positioning RAN as part of the Cloud business eco-system – where C-RAN means Cloud RAN – transforms 5G eInfrastructure into something that can add value in and of itself.

‘Cloudification’, then, brings new business models into the conceptual domain – but not just through new services. Cloud-RAN is a platform for creation of value within the pipe. With Cloud in play in the network and at the edge, new business innovations become obtainable. Such as mobile network multi-tenancy to support on-demand allocation of networking, storage and compute resources in a fully multi-tenant environment. Or multi-service- and context-aware adaptation of network functions to support a variety of services and corresponding QoE/QoS requirements.

Another way to put this is that dedicated networks contained in slices can meet the need of different services and tenants, be they service quality and performance, service-specific functionality, or adaptation to available infrastructure.

Potential new revenue drivers like these simply require innovative thinking and – as slicing and multi-tenancy imply – cooperation, which will be needed to open interfaces, enable control and user plane splits. It may also be necessary to embrace deferring capex for opex. Nevertheless, with a concerted change of mindset, there will be real intrinsic value in 5G infrastructure where there was – at least according to some people – none before.