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C-RAN Vendors Ready for Virtualization as Asian Operators Pursue Wide-scale Deployments, Says ABI Research  

With the prospects of saving 30% - 50% CAPEX and OPEX according to China Mobile, operators in East Asia have been actively supporting C-RAN structure and network virtualization to tackle increasing deployment cost. Centralized or Cloud Radio Access Networks (C-RAN) has been one of the most talked about topics in 2013 as major operators start seeking sound business models and many equipment vendors are jumping into the growing market and trying to reshape the landscape to suit their businesses.

In South Korea, the country’s biggest operators, SK Telecom and KT, have implemented centralized base station architectures for their LTE networks. In October 2013, SK Telecom marked a new phase for its deployment by collaborating with Intel to develop a virtualized RAN structure. Also, Japanese operator NTT Docomo joined C-RAN enthusiasts in 2013 as the operator announced the adoption of the structure for its LTE-A rollout. China Mobile who had been holding major trials across the country is expected to incorporate C-RAN in its commercially deployed networks in China between 2015 and 2016.

To date, the major challenge for global adoption of C-RAN is fronthaul requirements. Transferring large amounts of data from distributed Remote Radio Heads (RRHs) to a central processing location requires extremely high bandwidth and low latency fiber links which is a part of the mobile network that remains under developed in most regions outside East Asia. “C-RAN presence will continue to increase across the Asian region while remaining limited in other parts of the world. Other regions, where scarcity of cell sites is an issue, are likely to develop a market for partial deployment of C-RAN in densely populated areas,” says Ahmed Ali, research analyst at ABI Research.

On the other hand, distributed base station structures, which can be regarded as a step towards C-RAN from the traditional macro RAN architecture, are rapidly gaining traction, especially with LTE deployments. In 2014, half of the RRH shipments will be LTE and by 2018, the total number of shipments will amount to more than 2 million units, almost double the number shipped in 2013. “Gradual growth and development in infrastructure submarkets like RRH/BBU equipment and fronthaul solutions and even small cells will in return have a positive effect on the C-RAN market,” continues Ali.

These findings are from our latest report “C-RAN: Virtualizing the Radio for SDN/NFV” and are part of the Macro Basestations Research Service (https://www.abiresearch.com/research/service/macro-basestations/).

ABI Research provides in-depth analysis and quantitative forecasting of trends in global connectivity and other emerging technologies. From offices in North America, Europe and Asia, ABI Research’s worldwide team of experts advises thousands of decision makers through 70+ research and advisory services. Est. 1990. For more information visit www.abiresearch.com, or call +1.516.624.2500.

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