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In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Aji Ed, head of technology, mobile networks, Nokia MEA, emphasized how they are driving efficiency, innovation, openness and scale by embracing Cloud RAN. He explained how the launch of anyRAN will maximize the baseband options and optimize energy efficiency as well as overall operations.

Can you please tell us more about Nokia’s recently launched anyRAN and the major advantages that anyRAN will bring to Nokia’s clients?

Nokia launched anyRAN during MWC (Mobile World Congress) this year, which is a new concept to help mobile operators and enterprises extend their options for building and evolving their radio access networks. Nokia’s approach supports the evolution of today’s purpose-built networks to Cloud RAN and hybrid solutions, ensuring performance consistency across all network environments.

With anyRAN, the software can run on any partner's Cloud and Server infrastructure in addition to Nokia AirScale base stations and Nokia AirFrame servers. This approach removes the complexity from deployments by allowing a mix of purpose-built, hybrid and fully Cloud-based RAN solutions, enabling deep multi-level disaggregation at the Cloud Infrastructure layer and data center (server) hardware layer. Close collaboration with partners also ensures performance consistency of Cloud RAN with Nokia’s field-proven, purpose-built RAN. This consistency in performance is also enabled by common software and In-Line acceleration.

anyRAN provides more flexibility for operators and enterprises instead of vendor lock-in. Our Cloud RAN will run on our own Container-as-a-Service (CaaS) layer as well as on Cloud infrastructure of AWS, Google, Microsoft and IBM. anyRAN provides more server supply chain choices. Our Cloud RAN will run on our own AirFrame servers and also on servers made by Dell, HPE and AWS — in each case with the performance boost of the In-Line acceleration by Nokia.

Can you share more details about how combining Layer 1 SmartNIC with the "host neutral" Container-as-a-Service (CaaS) layer enables anyRAN's flexible approach?

Underpinning the high-performance solutions for Cloud RAN is the Nokia SmartNIC, a Layer 1 (fronthaul) In-Line acceleration card that integrates seamlessly with all leading Cloud or server infrastructures. Today, SmartNICs (Network Interface Cards) are commonly used as accelerators in public and private cloud data centers. L1 acceleration needs specialized silicon with extreme computing capacity, which is beyond the capabilities of general-purpose processors. With the Layer 1 Smart NIC, all or part of the L1 processing is off-loaded from the CPU with a RAN SmartNIC PCIe card. This frees up valuable CPU resources, enabling higher performance for L2 and L3 application processing. Nokia Cloud RAN SmartNIC is more energy efficient and provides higher performance. Nokia and its partners have already successfully performed end-to-end 5G data calls (Layer 3 calls) in multi-vendor setups powered by Nokia’s solution.

The In-Line SmartNIC with Cloud-native vDU (virtualized Distributed Unit) and vCU (virtualized Central Unit) software supports the commonly accepted Cloud-native principles, including, among others, data being decoupled from the applications, loosely coupled microservices, elastic and horizontal scaling, automated lifecycle management and continuous software integration and delivery. For example, it supports the scalability and flexible deployment of containerized vDU application functions to various nodes managed by the container orchestration platform, such as Kubernetes.

Cloud efficiency is higher with the In-Line accelerated Cloud RAN architecture as it relaxes the latency requirements on the Containers-as-a-Service (CaaS) layer running on the CPU (GPPs). This leads to savings on the real-time features of CaaS.

Customers are improving their network evolution strategy. How will Nokia help them drive efficiency, innovation, openness and scale by embracing Cloud RAN?

RAN networks are expected to evolve gradually towards Cloud-based RAN solutions. According to Dell’Oro, Cloud RAN solutions have the potential to make up approximately 20 percent of the total RAN market by 2027. Volume deployments are expected to start gradually accelerating in 2024-2025. While the limited number of greenfield operators can build their networks from a clean slate based on Cloud RAN technology, all other operators will choose to adopt a hybrid network approach, so Cloud RAN will have to co-exist with Classic RAN for many years. This hybrid mobile network will evolve over time, with Cloud RAN being introduced for specific use cases and/or geographies. For example, most CSPs will focus their Cloud RAN deployments on high-capacity configurations with high performance and energy efficiency requirements that are best fulfilled with the In-Line architecture option. Further, the high-capacity configurations can best benefit from the geographical centralization of vCUs.

Nokia is working closely with its semiconductor, server-maker, hyperscaler and managed Cloud service partners to optimize the cost and power consumption of server and data center hardware. As a RAN supplier, we will provide our mobile operator and enterprise customers with the flexibility to select their own server platforms and private Clouds or use public service Clouds or their preferred Cloud infrastructure software stacks and centralize or decentralize whatever they prefer. Ultimately, this flexibility means that operators can respond rapidly to their customers’ varied requirements when using new applications or services, such as low-latency services or network slicing, in addition to mobile broadband and mobile voice connectivity.

How will anyRAN and L1 inline accelerator deliver more energy efficiency and higher performance, supporting the sustainability ambitions of CSPs?

It is widely recognized that for highly demanding workloads such as L1 processing, purpose-built silicon technology provides higher performance and is also more energy efficient. Typically, In-Line solutions use energy-efficient ARM-based silicon that is also commonly used in Classic RAN networks and increasingly across all networks, including webscalers’ Cloud data centers.

Nokia anyRAN (vDU+vCU) configuration, based on technology available in 2023 and included in roadmaps for the future, has been benchmarked for a high-capacity Cloud RAN configuration. The result is a significantly lower power consumption per cell with an In-Line solution compared to a Look-Aside solution. This translates into a lower cost per cell for the In-Line solution, in addition to the aforementioned capacity and efficiency benefits.

How will the anyRAN approach allow Nokia to deepen its partnerships with Cloud and data center infrastructure leaders?

Nokia has long been a supporter of open and interoperable technologies, and we always look to place our customers’ interests first. We believe that collaboration with partners is key to creating the ecosystem for Cloud RAN. We have already announced partnerships with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud to develop Cloud RAN in the 5G era and have been working together closely to integrate our solutions. We have also announced a partnership with IBM targeting enterprise customers. This strong partner ecosystem has been further strengthened through our collaboration with tech giants Dell Technologies and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. By pooling our leading technology together with these innovative companies, we can create advantages that no single company could achieve alone.

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