Clouds. Cells. Cool. Continued.

One year ago Multicore Mix blogger Debbie Shemony posted about trends in the wireless infrastructure market. On the horizon, she saw cloud base station architectures, heterogeneous networks with small cells, and energy-efficient technologies enabling better radio access networks at lower cost and energy consumption: clouds, cells, and cool. In the spirit of that post let’s see where on the horizon the cloud is today, pun intended.

The cloud has become an ubiquitous term encompassing many different concepts such as the Cloud Radio Access Network (C-RAN) in cellular communications which pools the baseband processing for a multitude of transmission points at one central location. Due to its remote and centralized computing resources, the C-RAN draws its name from the resemblance with cloud computing.  But resource pooling is just one facet of cloud systems. Another is rapid elasticity, i.e., the ability to automatically control and optimize resources without human interaction.

From the control channel and reference signal design in the physical layer to the concept of control and data plane separation in higher layers, communications infrastructure is currently being transformed to a soft network infrastructure where quick adaptation to traffic patterns is enabled through software. The idea of a self-organizing network (SON) is evident in the 3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE) since its earliest release but with the advent of heterogeneous networks, SON can truly tailor the resources towards the current network load. With the same objective, coordinated multi-points (CoMP) can coordinate transmissions from geographically dispersed points blurring the very definition of cells. In other words, LTE Advanced networks can elastically and rapidly provision and release resources irrespective of whether the baseband is centralized in a C-RAN or not. The only difference between a centralized Cloud-RAN and a “distributed Cloud-RAN” is the time scale at which such adaptation can occur.

The idea of cloud-like on-demand radio access networks sounds intriguing and underscores the importance of a single integrated architecture which spans across all cell sizes as is the case with TI’s KeyStone systems-on-a-chip devices. I can’t wait to see what innovations 2013 will bring to the industry and would love to hear the predictions of our Multicore Mix readers in the comments section below!