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Radio Access Network (RAN)

What is a radio access network?

A key element of a wireless communications system, a radio access network (RAN) uses radio links to link individual devices to other areas of the network. The RAN uses a fiber or wireless backhaul connection to connect user equipment, such as a computer, smartphone, or any other remotely controlled device. The core network, which controls subscriber data, location, and other functions, is reached over that connection.

Radio Access Network (RAN)

The radio aspect of the cellular network is known as the radio access network or RAN for short. Cells are the individual geographical regions that make up a cellular network. At least one radio transceiver serves a cell, while three is usually the norm for cell locations.

From the first generation (1G) of cellular networking to the fifth generation (5G), RANs have changed throughout the time. The third-generation partnership project introduced Long-Term Evolution (LTE) RAN with the advent of fourth generation (4G) technology in the 2000s, which brought about substantial changes to the radio access network and core network. With 4G, system connection was built on IP for the first time, taking the place of earlier networks that were circuit-based.

Improvements in centralized RAN, also known as cloud RAN (C-RAN), and multiple antenna arrays, such as multiple input, multiple output (MIMO), are now possible with LTE Advanced and 5G.

With the introduction of the first cellular networks, phone calls, text messaging, and video and audio streaming have become additional features of RAN. Drones, internet of things devices, and all kinds of vehicles are just a few examples of the rapidly expanding range of user equipment that makes use of these networks.

What elements are there in a RAN?

Depending on their capacity, base stations and antennas that cover a certain area are included in RAN components. RAN functionality is provided by silicon chips found in both the user equipment and the core network.

A RAN is composed of three fundamental components:

  1. Radio waves are created from electrical impulses using antennas.
  2. Then digital data is converted into radio waves and make sure that the relevant frequency bands and power levels are being used for transmissions.
  3. Wireless communication is made feasible by a series of signal processing operations provided by baseband units (BBUs). Conventional baseband enables wireless communication by combining many lines of code with specialized electronics, usually using the licensed radio spectrum. Error detection, wireless signal security, and efficient use of wireless resources are all ensured by BBU processing.

How are RANs operated?

Accessibility to resources is facilitated by a RAN, which also manages their distribution across radio sites. The backbone, or core network, is reached wirelessly by a phone or other device, and the RAN distributes its signal to several wireless terminals so that it may carry on with traffic from other networks. Dual-mode handsets are phones that have the ability to connect to different RANs simultaneously from a single device.

Radio Access Network (RAN)

In RAN architecture of the second and third generations (2G and 3G), the nodes linked to the RAN controllers are managed by the RAN administrator. According to the kind of RAN, the network administrator of the RAN links to either the packet-switched or the circuit-switched core network to govern radio resources, movement, as well as data protection.

The radio access network's architecture has altered with the introduction of 4G LTE and an all-IP network. To better meet the needs of contemporary mobile devices, C-RAN, in particular, separated the radios and antennas from the baseband controllers.

These days, the user plane and the control plane are divided into different parts in RAN design. Via a software-defined networking switch and a control-based interface, the RAN controller can communicate with two sets of user data packets. Because of this division, the RAN may be made more adaptable to 5G-related network function virtualization methods like network slicing and high MIMO.

What is RAN in 5G?

The newest radio interface and radio access technology for 5G cellular technology is the 5G New Radio (5G NR) standard. Many frequency bands are supported by the interface, notably millimeter wave (mmWave) bands like 24 GHz, 28 GHz, and larger, as well as sub-6 GHz bands. In comparison with sub-6 GHz offerings, the mmWave bands can provide transfer rates of more than one gigabit per second, but their ranges are less.

Types of Radio Access Networks

RAN patterns consist of the following:

  • In the field of access networks, open RAN is the most trending subject. For cellular wireless networks that employ white box servers and other common equipment instead of the custom-made hardware traditionally utilized in base stations, it entails building compatible open hardware, software, and interfaces.
  • A base station's radio components are divided into remote radio heads (RRHs) via C-RAN. For the best radio coverage, they may be installed atop cell towers. RRHs need to be wired or wirelessly linked to centralized baseband controllers via microwave radio connections. Standard white box servers are used for baseband processing in the majority of cases.
  • GRAN, short for Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) RAN, was created for 2G. Similar to GRAN, but with the introduction of Enhanced Data GSM Environment packet radio services, is GSM EDGE RAN, or GERAN.
  • With 3G, Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) Terrestrial RAN, or UTRAN, came into existence.
  • LTE includes Evolved Universal Terrestrial RAN, or E-UTRAN.

The development of RAN

In Tokyo, 1G cellular networks were introduced in 1979, utilizing wireless technology and analog radios. In the United States, the first commercial cellular network was constructed in the year 1983. Finland built a digital 2G GSM network in 1991. Before long, cellular networks appeared all across the globe, allowing users to easily send and receive messages via text and transmit information.

The GSM and Code-Division Multiple Access (CDMA) protocols separated as a result of this. The European Telecommunications Standards Institute created the GSM standard, which is widely in use. Prior to Sprint and Verizon, CDMA was created by Qualcomm and was utilized throughout North America, as well as in certain regions of South America, Japan, and South Korea.

In 2001, NTT DoCoMo introduced 3G for business use. The GSM-based 3G technology is called UMTS, while the competing standard was called CDMA2000. With 3G, cellular web access became feasible, offering 6 megabits per second of speed for downloading.

In December 2009, 4G LTE service was initially introduced between Stockholm and Oslo, Norway. The first significant cellular network specification to employ IP for all data packets, including voice, was 4G LTE, as was previously indicated. With the rollout of genuine 4G LTE Advanced starting in 2013, additional C-RAN and MIMO antenna arrays become accessible.

The deployment of 5G NR started at the end of 2018 and continued through 2019 and 2020. While independent 5G networks that operate without a 4G base are beginning to appear, RAN networks-which make up the bulk of 5G networks deployed to date-use a 4G core network to manage data sessions.

Defining the RAN and the Virtual RAN

RANs offer wireless connections among a wireless network's core and endpoints, such as PCs, cellphones, and Internet of Things devices. RANs are implemented in network equipment form factors and usually include base station managers and a base station at the distant cell site, complete with radios.

The vRAN modifies the conventional RAN design by dividing and centralizing control over wireless operations in order to maximize efficiency and minimize costs. The three primary parts of virtualized or cloud RAN designs are as follows:

  • A centrally located baseband unit (BBU) with computational capacity.
  • Distant radio receivers (RRU).
  • Transport networks, usually made of fiber, that link many RRUs to the BBU.
Radio Access Network (RAN)

Advantages of a virtual RAN

Virtualized RAN proponents provide a number of advantages, including decreased latency, cheaper costs, and better performance. Using the concepts of network functions virtualization, a vRAN offers various hosting capacities to virtualized applications running on shared hardware platforms. Intelligent traffic steering between dispersed cell sites, locally stored data to lower latency, and increased dependability are further advantages of vRAN.

5G designs need more cell sites with varying sizes than those in 4G architectures in order to provide the performance enhancements that have been promised. The management and functionality of the newest 5G base stations depend on these vRAN designs.

Low latency, high bandwidth connections between cell sites, and centralized or dispersed control points are necessary for the virtualization of RAN services, which most likely mandates the use of fiber optic networks. Currently, a multitude of rival standards organizations, including the Telecom Infra Project and the O-RAN Alliance, are working on vRAN standards.

One essential component of a mobile network is a RAN, and it may still be difficult to integrate virtual components from many vendors.

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