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TECHnalysis Research president Bob O'Donnell writes a regular column in Forbes and those columns are posted here and archived on this site.

August 9, 2023
Samsung Networks and Intel Evolve Virtual RAN

By Bob O'Donnell

Sometimes it’s the seemingly simple things that matter most.

In the case of 5G network infrastructure, that can definitely be the case. Changes to how certain elements get deployed or network architectures evolve can make a very noticeable difference in things like the speed, capabilities, and power efficiency of a given cellular network.

Recently, there have been a number of interesting examples. T-Mobile, for example, moved from the aggregation of three carrier signals to four, and the result was an impressive boost to download speeds of up to 3.3 Gb/s for phones like Samsung’s S23 that support the technology. T-Mo also took advantage of its nationwide 5G standalone (SA) architecture and enabled the first iterations of the long-awaited network slicing functionality for developers to access.

On the surface, both of these efforts sound like relatively minor ones, but in fact, they both required a lot of behind-the-scenes work. The results have important long-term implications.

The most recent example of this type of seemingly minor, yet notable work is a new joint effort between Samsung Networks and Intel. Specifically, the two companies just announced that the ability to run Samsung’s VRAN 3.0 software stack on Intel’s 4th Generation Xeon Scalable CPUs with VRAN Boost will be available later this fall. Though the company is primarily thought of as a hardware provider, in the world of network infrastructure, Samsung Networks has built an impressive stable of software offerings over time. This latest effort with Intel also highlights that the company knows how to leverage the latest hardware developments for practical purposes.

Specifically, by evolving its software to take advantage of the new telco-focused hardware acceleration capabilities in the latest generation Intel server chips, Samsung Networks can now enable more cell towers to run off a single server than it could in the past.

The improvement in power efficiency is certainly noteworthy on its own, but when it’s put into the context of running across large-scale cellular networks, then its true value becomes apparent. Plus, given how power-hungry many of these networks are, you begin to realize what a significant impact this reduced power envelope can have. These kinds of improvements give carriers the ability to increase their network footprint without increasing the power requirements in some environments or reduce the power demands with similar coverage in others.

Beyond the improvement in power efficiencies, these new optimization efforts also provide a more stable platform upon which companies can make the move to virtualizing their RAN infrastructure. Despite the many benefits that virtualized RAN can enable—including increased flexibility, capability, and reduced costs—many carriers have been somewhat slow to make the move. By bringing together a stable, optimized new platform from these two key industry players, Samsung Networks and Intel can offer additional confidence to carriers that have been clinging to legacy network infrastructure.

For carriers that are in the process of modernizing their networks, but still need to support the additional signal requirements of previous G’s, the new combined solution from Samsung Networks and Intel is an option as well. It includes support for MultiRAT (Multiple Radio Access Technologies) so that carriers can continue to run 2G, 4G and 5G networks simultaneously.

In addition, the latest iteration of Samsung Networks’ VRAN software includes features that enable critical capabilities on the company’s advanced radio configurations. For example, in version 3.0, there’s now support for 200 MHZ 3-Cell 64T64R MIMO radios, which can dramatically improve the throughput on a given cell site by increasing the efficiency and speed of each of many simultaneous links. The new version also incorporates improved automation capabilities, making it easier and faster to deploy enhancements across the network. It’s these kind of software upgradeable capabilities that make VRAN such a compelling technology for modern 5G networks.

Modernizing network infrastructure is never an easy or fast task because of how critical it is to maintain functionality at all times. For this and other reasons, it’s understandable why some carriers have been a bit slow to make the move towards full virtualization of their RANs. With developments like these latest efforts from Samsung Networks and Intel, however, key objections are being removed and important new opportunities are becoming even more apparent.

Let’s hope that these kinds of seemingly small changes can drive the important, long-term impacts that 5G networks need to continue their evolution forward.

Disclosure: TECHnalysis Research is a tech industry market research and consulting firm and, like all companies in that field, works with many technology vendors as clients, some of whom may be listed in this article.

Here’s a link to the original column:

Forbes columnist Bob O'Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community.