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Cloud RAN (Key Components Explained)

In this article, we explain what a cloud RAN is, why it’s important, how 5G is related to it, and the benefits it could offer your organization.

What Is a Cloud RAN?

Cloud RANs are cloud-native, centralized cellular network architecture. Cloud RANs also provide great benefits in network scalability and performance. The term cloud RAN is often abbreviated as C-RAN and sometimes referred to as centralized or collaborative RAN.

A radio access network acts as a bridge connecting cellular devices to the public or private cloud. Mobile devices send information via radio waves to RAN baseband units that forward that data to the core network that accesses the global internet.

Cloud RANs enhance radio networks through improvements in real-time virtualization and cloud computing to provide higher spectrum efficiency, faster RAN speeds, and support a larger number of mobile devices.

C-RAN architecture plays a pivotal role in modernizing networks to support our 5G future. As cellular networks grow larger, cloud RAN architecture helps improve the growing demand for better coverage, reliability, and capacity.

How Are Cloud RANs Different from Other RANs? 

Cloud RAN was the first type of RAN network to use cloud computing and IT infrastructure for networking and data processing. This shift in architecture offers some key benefits: 

  • Faster data processing 
  • Support for multi-tenant services
  • Dynamic cellular resources based on demand or service levels
  • Lower costs through virtual hardware and network functions
  • Automated management and maintenance through cloud networking

Cloud RAN architecture builds off the improvements of other RAN designs while introducing the power of cloud computing and internet-based protocols. Other RAN architecture types include the following:

E-UTRAN - Evolved Universal Terrestrial RAN was the first RAN optimized for packet data and offered various performance improvements during the mass adoption of LTE networks.

vRAN - Virtual RANs separate the software and hardware components for more flexible networks that aren’t constrained by vendor-specific hardware.

ORAN - Open RANs improve the communication between networks by leveraging open-source hardware and software. This architecture makes networks more affordable, accessible, and efficient. Enterprise ORANs build off this architecture to deploy and scale private 5G services.

Components of a Cloud RAN

A Cloud RAN is comprised of three components:

BBU Pool

The BBU pool consists of multiple baseband units that dynamically allocate cellular resources based on network demand and conditions. BBU pools are typically located at a data center or cloud environment with each BBU providing powerful storage and compute resources. CRANs can fully centralize network functions to the BBU pool to provide easier management and maintenance.

RRU Network

The remote radio unit network connects wireless devices to different access points or cellular towers. The RRU receives radio signals from mobile devices and passes that signal to the BBU for digitization.

Fronthaul / Transport Network

The fronthaul provides a connection between the BBU pool and the RRU network. Fronthaul networks require high bandwidth to support the high-traffic demands of modern cellular networks. Many Cloud RANs use optical fiber or millimeter-wave communication for their fronthaul networks.

Cloud RAN Uses Cases

Cloud RAN design is a highly versatile architecture allowing it to be used in a variety of public and private use cases.

Enterprise Private 5G

In a private 5G environment, Cloud RAN architecture allows businesses to reliably scale and granularly control their cellular resources. Companies can benefit from network slicing, where resources are dynamically controlled across the C-RAN, similar to how administrators use VLAN in IP-based networks. 

Celona’s MicroSlicing further builds on this technology by simplifying networking slicing principles and packaging them in a way that makes management and integrations easy for enterprise networks. MicroSlicing goes beyond traditional network slicing by allowing businesses to control their resources per application or device across both the WAN and core network.

Managed Service Providers

The centralization of computing and cellular resources allows managed service providers a new way to offer service to their customers. Through multitenant features, MSPs can set flexible service levels and easily allocate cellular resources based on demand or client. MSPs can also benefit from lower overhead costs thanks to hardware virtualization, which eliminates the need for additional infrastructure.

Commercial 5G Adoption

Lastly, Cloud RAN networks will help commercial carriers bring 5G service to more places. Cloud RAN architecture enables providers to broadcast both 4G and 5G simultaneously without physically replacing their radios through dynamic spectrum sharing. This spectrum sharing is made possible through virtualization and C-RAN technology that automatically allocates cellular resources between the two networks.

The Celona Solution

Celona partners with enterprise organizations to provide private LTE and 5G connectivity services for their critical operations as a seamless turnkey solution. As part of Celona’s solution set, the cloud RAN model has been utilized to improve services and reduce the cost of private cellular infrastructure adoption.

Plug-and-play private cellular access points from Celona can be quickly deployed throughout your facility, while proactive monitoring with a cloud-hosted dashboard ensures network service level objectives, such as throughput and latency requirements, are consistently being met.

Celona uses cloud networking principles to make implementing its 5G LAN solution an out-of-box experience for access point installation, SIM provisioning, mobile core integration to existing enterprise networks, and more. Onboarding for a Celona 5G LAN can be done alongside existing wireless and IT infrastructure without interrupting business operations.

To get started, check out a live / custom demo of Celona’s solution by visiting us at celona.io/journey where you can also sign up for a free trial of a Celona 5G LAN. 

On-Demand Demo

See a Celona 5G LAN in action and learn the basics

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