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Enhanced timing Ethernet adapters help CSPs meet vRAN

Jul 27, 2023Jul 27, 2023

As Communications Service Providers (CSPs) transition from closed proprietary RAN systems to open, disaggregated solutions as part of their migration to 5G, Ethernet adapters with hardware-enhanced timing synchronization are proving essential in allowing them to build virtualized RAN (vRAN) solutions to meet their customers’ needs.

Intel’s Business Acceleration Manager Sean Lion further explained that with each new generation of cellular technology, the required level of synchronization between wireless antennas has tightened. “1G was very loose,” he said, but jump to 4G, and accurate and reliable synchronization became more critical to enable applications like high-definition video streaming or for data being broadcast under secure protocols.

Now, 5G performance requirements dictate timing specifications that are “tighter than they ever were to support the lowest absolute latency that these applications require to be successful as designed, in 5G,” continued Lion. Insufficient timing accuracy can cause service disruptions such as dropped calls and the loss of advanced network capabilities.

Further, the footprint that a base station can cover is also smaller than ever. “So, service providers need to provide more base stations and, therefore, there is a need for TCO [total cost of ownership] to keep coming down because they need to populate more and more towers,” Lion stated.

To help address the need for enhanced synchronization in 5G vRAN environments, it has been proposed that ubiquitous Ethernet replace Common Public Radio Interface (CPRI) as the connectivity protocol, which Lion said will make fronthaul transport networks more affordable, effective and customizable. Timing synchronization has also traditionally required dedicated hardware; however, by supporting network timing and synchronization capabilities on a standard Ethernet adapter, this dedicated hardware is no longer needed, which lowers solution TCO.

For its part, Intel worked with ecosystem partners to simplify the integration of

its Intel Ethernet 800 Series Network Adapters, which deliver Hardware-Enhanced 1588 Precision Time Protocol (PTP) and Synchronous Ethernet (SyncE) in a mainstream adapter in standard servers, offering precision timing across an entire network. And according to the company, it does so in a simplified, cost-effective way. Intel, then, is confident that its Ethernet vRAN solution addresses both the need for enhanced synchronization and lower TCO.

“It’s all about integrating the best of CPRI into an off-the-shelf system of connectivity,” explained Lion. “The fact that we can also integrate a cell site router as part of that solution, which is the synchronization piece, goes further in integrating commercial-off-the-shelf-solutions into a commercial-off-the-shelf server for best TCO of an Open RAN network.”

Integration, though, is hard, but also central to successful Open RAN deployments. Therefore, Lion considers Intel’s long-established history with nearly all the Open RAN ecosystem players to be one of the company’s biggest assets. “Whether it’s as an equipment provider, a solutions provider or a provider of chips or software — we’ve got long working histories with many of them in very high-tech applications and we’ve got very long partnerships with these same partners that give us the opportunity to know how to work with rather than have to learn how to work with them,” he said.