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Opportunities and Challenges in the New Age of Telecommunication Architecture - Smart Centralized Radio Access Network (Smart C-RAN)

By Rozaimy Rahman, Executive VP, Global Wholesale, Telekom Malaysia Berhad

Opportunities and Challenges in the New Age of Telecommunication Architecture - Smart Centralized Radio Access Network (Smart C-RAN)

Rozaimy Rahman, Executive VP, Global Wholesale, Telekom Malaysia Berhad

Opportunities and Challenges in the New Age of Telecommunication Architecture

Expectation for superlative speed, bigger capacity and improved quality of service is coherent with introduction of LTE services in the market. Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) aggressively put effort to increase LTE coverage through migration of 3G/2G sites and upgrading supporting ecosystem to produce expected performance. Adding to these, operators are deploying more eNodeB sites to cater to more coverage and capacity requirements. More sites signify more CAPEX requirements and more headaches for MNOs to deal with and address margin pressure.

In Malaysia, we are not yet done blanketing the country with eNodeB sites and this is a great opportunity to increase LTE build-out business. Other than focusing on fiber mobile backhaul for macro sites replacing the conventional microwave systems, Smart C-RAN architecture is the answer to cope with future mobile communication standards in highly populated urban cities addressing coverage and capacity requirements.

Efficient LTE Deployment

Managing LTE users’ expectation is critical to match marketing hype, otherwise it will potentially backfire especially via social media tantrum. Whilst MNOs may opt to build own infrastructure for the eNodeB sites, outsourcing of Smart C-RAN solution from neutral infrastructure provider is a better alternative to speed up the LTE network deployment in the cities as a hands-off approach allowing them to concentrate on their core business stimulating operational and go-to-market excellence.

A cluster based Smart C-RAN architecture is a milestone towards adoption of Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) where MNO is able to control, monitor and aggregate multiple LTE sites from a centralized hub; a control mechanism that is less dominant during pre-LTE era. Aggregation of baseband units in C-RAN provides central point for traffic offload and content management to handle growing traffic. For network extensibility, it is also easier for MNOs to upgrade and expand network capacity from the aggregated point back to LTE core network.

Innovative Use of Limited Space

LTE traffic concentration at urban and metropolitan cities pose a little problem for site acquisition, where space is limited and third party costs is significantly higher. Having a mega telecommunication infrastructure (towers) in the middle of crowded areas is counterproductive and Smart C-RAN solution low better aesthetic and smaller footprint, motivated by common infrastructure sharing of Smart C-RAN pole and mobile front haul. To fuel up cost efficiency and increase asset value, Smart C-RAN poles can be maximized for hotspot and surveillance systems. And in the future, in line with the rapid deployment of smart cities worldwide, one can anticipate that more smart solutions can be embedded within the Smart C-RAN architecture. It is unforeseen for carriers not to install smart sensors in light with recent hype of digitalization for big data and analytics, enriching community lifestyle.

Essentially the scalable architecture of Smart C-RAN allows common sharing of infrastructure for multiple MNOs, enabling various services and foster future innovations which unquestionably optimize asset utilization and eliminate duplication of resources. It is infuriating to see LTE infra owned by competing operators, installed side by side condoning space productivity and collaborative effort which seldom prevail over competition.  

Not All Rosy for C-RAN

It is not entirely ingenuous to deploy a Smart C-RAN pole infrastructure in the middle of the city. Other than the need to acquire specialized telecommunication and engineering expertise, a proficiency in dealing with regulators, local authorities, landlords or premise owners is relatively taxing. Any new industry entrance may easily acquire technical expertise to aggregate requirements from multiple MNOs, but building capabilities to deal with regulators’ and local authorities’ requirements demand a total commitment, beyond commercial interests.

Of course, we understand the complexity of managing public interests and this is where service providers need to juggle resources diligently if they believe clustered C-RAN is where the future is. Smart C-RAN deployment is expected to specifically address aesthetic needs within drawn policies and offers optimum third party(ies) returns. Nonetheless, we are confident that deployment of C-RAN will become easier over time, once all stakeholders witness and experience the benefits of having such a dynamic telecom infra.

"We understand the complexity of managing public interests and this is where service providers need to juggle resources"

Virtualization is the Future

As LTE coverage and mobile bandwidth requirements keep on increasing, we are adamant that the Smart C-RAN technology is yet another major milestone in supporting MNOs effort towards the future of virtualization of mobile telecom infra, optimizing resources with advanced capabilities. The flexibility, scalability and efficiency offered by the architecture will make the solution stand for a long time. Service providers, regulators, local authorities, landlords and premise owners need to work hand in hand for successful adoption of Smart C-RAN and virtualizations of infrastructure for the benefits of the nation and industry.

Founded in 1984 and headquartered at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Telekom Malaysia Berhad is a telecommunication company and a broadband service provider.

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