4 Radio Access Network Trends that Redefine Connectivity in 2024

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2024 is here, and so far, it looks like the telecom industry isn’t slowing down. Today’s radio access networks are evolving faster than ever toward more intelligent, agile, and efficient architectures, driven by huge advances in automation, AI, and virtualization technologies. This evolution is opening the door to new services and capabilities that will impact the RAN in significant ways, which means it’s essential for operators to stay abreast of these developments to remain competitive and continue to deliver a superior user experience.

Here are four significant RAN trends we’ve identified for 2024:

  1. Zero Touch Automation is Finally Here

While the jury is still out on whether we will ever have a fully ‘lights out’ automated mobile network, one of the biggest trends we’re seeing is that certain RAN optimization tasks are being automated to the point where they no longer require human intervention. The sheer size and complexity of today’s mobile networks have made this inevitable, and the benefits speak for themselves. Self-configuration, self-optimization, and self-healing capabilities within RANs allow operators to continuously monitor network conditions, identify areas for improvement, and implement changes autonomously to enhance performance and reliability.

Automation offers several advantages when managing mobile radio networks, including:

  • Efficiency: Automation streamlines the configuration process by automating repetitive tasks, reducing the time and effort required to configure network elements. This efficiency allows network operators to deploy and update networks more quickly and cost-effectively.
  • Consistency: Automation can reduce the risk of human error and inconsistencies in network settings, leading to improved network reliability and performance.
  • Scalability: Automated configuration tools can quickly provision new network elements and adjust settings to meet changing requirements without manual intervention.
  • Flexibility: Automated tools can monitor network performance in real-time and adjust configurations dynamically to optimize resource utilization and quality of service.
  • Resource Optimization: Automation can be used to optimize network resources by dynamically adjusting configurations based on traffic load, user demand, and network conditions. It can also optimize parameters such as power levels, antenna configurations, and handover thresholds to maximize network capacity and efficiency.
  • Cost Savings: By reducing manual effort and minimizing human intervention, automation helps lower operational costs associated with network configuration and management.

Zero touch automation plays an increasingly crucial role in modern mobile radio networks, and we believe it will continue to be a trend throughout 2024 and beyond.

  1. Voice Over New Radio Takes Center Stage

As 5G evolves, the next logical step is to transition away from legacy networks. 5G VoNR, or Voice over New Radio, is a technology that enables voice calls to be transmitted over 5G networks as opposed to 4G.  This is important for operators in 2024 as more will be transitioning to a 5G core, where they don’t have the legacy network to use for voice traffic. While this transition will happen over several years, 2024 will be when things really get moving. In fact, Juniper Research estimates the total number of Voice-over-5G users will reach 2.5 billion globally by 2026.

VoNR will provide an enhanced voice call experience and pave the way for a new generation of mobile services and applications, but it can be tricky to implement. Network disturbances during a voice call tend to be more noticeable than while browsing the mobile web or streaming a movie, so it’s critical that VoNR is properly configured and supported with the right underlying technology.

Here are some key RAN requirements for VoNR:

  • Low Latency: VoNR requires low latency in the RAN to ensure real-time voice communication without noticeable delays. Low latency helps in maintaining natural conversational flow during voice calls.
  • High Throughput: The RAN should support high throughput to accommodate the bandwidth requirements of VoNR traffic. High throughput ensures that voice calls are clear and uninterrupted, even in high-traffic scenarios.
  • Reliability and Stability: The RAN must provide reliable and stable connections for VoNR calls. This includes minimizing packet loss, reducing jitter, and ensuring seamless handovers between cells to maintain call continuity.
  • Quality of Service (QoS) Guarantees: The RAN should support QoS mechanisms to prioritize VoNR traffic over other types of data traffic. QoS guarantees help in maintaining voice call quality, even during times of network congestion.
  • Coverage and Capacity: The RAN should offer sufficient coverage and capacity to support VoNR services across different geographical areas and population densities. This includes deploying enough base stations and optimizing radio resource management to meet the demand for voice services.

When it comes to creating a positive VoNR customer experience, it’s critical to deliver voice quality that’s as good or better than 4G. This comes down to designing and optimizing the radio network in a way that supports a truly seamless voice experience.

  1. O-RAN and the Shift Away from Single Vendor Networks

The move towards Open Radio Access Networks (O-RAN) is a big trend for 2024 and is projected to account for 15% to 20% of global RAN by 2027, according Dell’Oro Group’s forecast report. In traditional RAN deployments, network operators often rely on a single vendor for all their equipment and software needs. But the whole idea behind open RAN is to create open standards and specifications so that more companies can participate, which in turn will create more competition.

Because O-RAN promotes interoperability between hardware and software components from different vendors, this means that network operators can choose best-of-breed solutions for different parts of their network, leading to increased flexibility and innovation. Vendor neutrality reduces the dependency on a single vendor for network equipment and software, allowing network operators to avoid vendor lock-in and giving them more leverage in negotiations and technology choices.

Here are some additional O-RAN benefits:

  • Innovation Acceleration: O-RAN fosters innovation by enabling collaboration among different stakeholders, including network operators, equipment vendors, and software developers. This collaboration can lead to faster development cycles and the introduction of new features and services.
  • Flexibility and Scalability: O-RAN architectures are designed to be more flexible and scalable compared to traditional proprietary network designs. This flexibility allows operators to adapt their networks more easily to changing traffic patterns and service requirements.
  • Easier Integration of New Technologies: O-RAN’s open architecture makes it easier to integrate new technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and network virtualization into the network infrastructure.

While there are many reasons to move towards more open, disaggregated radio networks, it does have its challenges. Factors such as radio frequency interference and network congestion can easily impact network performance and reliability.

Managing a disaggregated RAN involves coordinating the configuration, monitoring, and optimization of various network elements and services. Operators need sophisticated RAN management and optimization platforms like those from Aircom, to handle the complexity of heterogeneous RAN deployments while ensuring efficient resource utilization and service delivery.

Overall, O-RAN offers a paradigm shift in how wireless networks are designed, deployed, and operated, leading to greater flexibility, innovation, and cost-effectiveness for network operators.

  1. Digital Twin Technology Improves Radio Network Performance

In our view, digital twins is one of the most exciting RAN trends of 2024. Digital twins enable network operators to create virtual replicas of their physical mobile network infrastructure, including base stations, antennas, and transmission equipment and then simulate network performance under different conditions and configurations. With this approach, operators can optimize network design, capacity planning, and resource allocation to meet evolving demands and performance targets – without all the risk and expense of making the wrong decisions in a live network environment.

By creating a real-time digital twin of the radio network, operators can predict and visualize the impact of potential failures, performance bottlenecks, and service degradations and proactively identify and address issues before they impact network performance and the end-user experience. This capability is hugely beneficial in today’s 5G networks, and of course O-RAN and 6G will be other big benefactors due to the complexity of designing and optimizing these networks.

Here are a few more benefits of Digital Twins:

  • Resource Efficiency: By identifying underutilized resources and optimizing network configurations, operators can improve resource efficiency, reduce operational costs, and enhance network scalability and resilience.
  • Network Planning and Expansion: By analyzing virtual replicas of the network, operators can identify opportunities for network expansion, densification, and optimization to support growing traffic demands and emerging services.
  • Dynamic Network Management: Digital twins enable dynamic and adaptive network management by providing operators with real-time visibility and control over network resources, traffic patterns, and service quality.
  • Collaborative Decision-Making: Imagine the benefits of having a common platform for visualizing, analyzing, and discussing network performance and optimization strategies. By sharing insights and data-driven recommendations, stakeholders can make informed decisions about network design, investment, and operational priorities.

Overall, digital twin technology empowers network operators to design, deploy, and manage mobile networks more effectively by providing real-time insights, predictive analytics, and simulation capabilities that optimize network performance, resource utilization, and the user experience.

[Read our blog post – Seeing Double: How Digital Twins Are Being Used to Improve 5G Network Design]

Choose a Technology Partner for the Future

Planning, configuring, analyzing, and optimizing wireless networks and their expansions are complex and resource intensive tasks, especially with the introduction of 5G SA and new IoT devices and services.

It’s not only important to have a technology partner that understands the challenges of designing and optimizing today’s mobile networks. You want one that is equally committed to meeting tomorrow’s challenges as well.  Visit our website to learn more about Aircom’s RAN solutions portfolio.

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