NEC and Intel collaborate on mobile base station virtualization

Base stations could get smaller, cheaper and more powerful if a new virtualization project reaches fruition in 2016.

Kit maker NEC and Intel Corporation are to jointly develop a Cloud-Radio Access Network (Cloud-RAN) that can virtualize the functions of mobile base stations. The first joint proof of concept trial of Cloud-RAN will run in early 2016.

The partners say they aim to virtualize two major components of the next mobile base station, the Digital Unit (DU) and the Radio Unit (RU), which respectively handle data processing and the sending and receiving of radio waves. The new Cloud-RAN system will separate the DU functions from mobile base stations so they can be run on general-purpose Intel servers with multi-core processors. This means DU functions can be centralised which in turn allows for multiple radio units to be centrally controlled from one general-purpose server.

This re-engineering of base stations boosts their communication performance as they have more precise control of radio interference between the radio units. By consolidating the servers it also cuts the power and space consumption. The upshot of Cloud-RAN should be more powerful base stations that are cheaper to run, according to NEC. Virtualization has been a work in progress for a long time at NEC, said Nozomu Watanabe, General Manager for NEC’s Mobile Radio Access Network Division.

“We have been working with Intel on the virtualization of mobile core networks and customer premises equipment and are pleased to extend our collaboration in Network Functions Virtualization to mobile base stations,” said Watanabe.

NEC is to strengthen its relationship with Intel for the advancement of NFV as the core technology supporting 5G said Watanabe. NEC contributes to SDN and NFV related standards bodies the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), OpenDaylight, ETSI NFV, and Open Platform for NEV (OPNFV). It also the NEC SDN Partner Space programme to promote the development and use of network virtualization technologies.

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