European suppliers shy away from cloud radio networks

European suppliers have given a cool response to Intel technology enabling mobile providers to cut basestation hardware, says Intel’s CTO

European suppliers are not getting behind cloud-based radio access networks (RAN), despite the savings it could make for mobile operators across the region.

This was according to Justin Rattner, chief technology officer (CTO) at Intel, who told Computer Weekly European suppliers were protecting the deals they had selling equipment to mobile operators.

The idea behind cloud RANs it to remove the hardware needs at basestations and centralise the operations, enabling cloud servers to handle the capacity needs of each station and ramp up – or scale down – depending on the mobile traffic.

This will lead to less hardware needed in the field and better utilisation, as many basestations are over-provisioned in case of a spike in traffic, leaving servers on when they aren’t being used.

These benefits could translate to lower costs for buying and running servers, and reduced energy consumption for mobile operators.

The technology has been developed by Intel Labs and the China Mobile Research Institute in Beijing. The parent company of the China Mobile Research Institute – China Mobile – plans to roll the technology out across its upcoming 4G basestations over the next two years.

Suppliers' response to software proposition

Rattner said discussions with European partners had been disappointing.

“My personal stance, and I haven’t been in all of the meetings, but the stance of vendors, and I won’t name any names, they seem relatively cool to the idea,” Rattner said. 

“Obviously they have a lot of investments and in a sense you are turning radio access networks from what was a hardware business to what will be primarily a software business, you can understand why they’re relatively cool about it.”

Intel is currently working on incorporating virtualisation to enable one server to run as many as 100 basestations. Rattner believes that, as the technology progresses and gets standards, European vendors will be forced to join in.

“As standards are defined, I think we will continue to grow interests in Europe, but again, I would say, for the moment, the reception among suppliers has been relatively cool.”   

During this year’s Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, a demonstration of the cloud RAN was shown during the keynote presentation, using two non-vendor specific servers running Intel’s core i7 processors to show how the system could load balance traffic as demand increased or decreased (see image above left).

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications