Accelerating Open RAN Performance

If Open RAN is in your future, we have some exciting news for you.

Blog is co-authored by Scott Heinlein, Marketing Lead, Telecom Systems Business, Open RAN Solutions

Achieving performance parity with Open RAN

The industry generally agrees that today’s traditional RAN systems need to evolve. With the exponential increase in wireless traffic and edge computing application expected with 5G, building out scalable, flexible, and cost-efficient radio networks will be critical to the future success of communication service providers (CSPs). Unfortunately, today’s traditional RAN systems tend to be architecturally inflexible and create vendor lock-in.

This realization has led to the development of virtualized RAN (vRAN) systems and, beyond that, open RAN systems that allow CSPs to mix and match vRAN software and commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) servers for a more flexible and standards-based best-of-breed approach. Intuitively, Open RAN makes a lot of sense. Yet Open RAN solutions have so far struggled to match the cost and performance of traditional RAN solutions.

To succeed fully, Open RAN must achieve cost/performance parity with traditional RAN systems. One of the main challenges to achieving this has been the virtualized distributed unit (vDU) performance when running on a COTS server. The vDUs, which are responsible for upper layer 1 and layer 2 functions, so far do not perform at the same level as traditional RAN systems, where these are done in a highly optimized proprietary broadband base unit (BBU). In fact, in early Open RAN projects, we found that especially the Layer 1 performance is critical for the vDU to achieve the efficiency levels of traditional RAN BBUs.

Today, Dell is proud to announce the industry’s first layer 1 inline RAN accelerator card for vRAN and Open RAN solutions, developed in collaboration with Marvell Technology. The Dell Open RAN Accelerator Card is essential in addressing the vDU performance gap in Open RAN deployments, lowering costs while achieving vDU performance parity in Open RAN systems. The Dell Open RAN Accelerator Card will connect to a standard PCI Express (PCIe) slot, enabling it to run on Dell PowerEdge or any other x86-based server.

Marvell and Dell: Accelerating the future

Dell’s Open RAN Accelerator Card features the OCTEON Fusion CNF95xx chipset from Marvell — the same chipset used in traditional RAN solutions offered by vendors today. The Marvell chipset includes a mix of digital signal processors (DSPs) and advanced RISC machine (ARM) cores uniquely suited to layer 1 computations. Moving layer 1 processes to the accelerator card allows the server central processing unit (CPU) to focus on what it does best: layer 2 and layer 3 computations. The Dell Open RAN Accelerator Card improves the server’s performance, reducing power consumption and overall costs. The result is an open, best-of-breed RAN solution that offers performance in parity with traditional RAN systems.

Beyond Marvell’s industry-leading chipset technology, the Dell Open RAN Accelerator Card includes essential features, including a built-in GNNS timing module, embedded MACsec encryption, and integrated Dell Remote Access Controller (iDRAC) technology. Until now, vRAN and Open RAN solutions required a separate timing module, which added to the cost and complexity of next-generation RAN systems. Adding the timing module into the Dell Open RAN Accelerator Card enables all timing requirements — from precision time protocol (PTP) to SynchronousEthernet (SyncE) – to be handled right out of the box with no need for additional hardware. The iDRAC is designed for secure local and remote server management and helps administrators deploy, update, and monitor Dell PowerEdge servers anywhere, anytime. This is essential for a geographically dispersed RAN infrastructure where physical access to servers may be a challenge.

An Open RAN solution that opens the door to more choices

Dell plans to release the Open RAN Accelerator Card later this year to integrate application software for a complete layer 1 solution. This will allow CSPs to have full flexibility in building out their next-generation Open RAN network. For example, they can choose the layer 1 software from another vendor and integrate it with the Dell Open RAN Accelerator Card. When deployed in a Dell PowerEdge server, they can take advantage of Dell’s value-added features such as iDRAC and Dell’s BIOS software. CSPs will also have the option to choose between x86 or ARM-based servers for their Open RAN hardware.

In brief, the efficiency boost brought by the Dell Open RAN Accelerator Card will allow CSPs to flexibly and affordably build and scale their Open RAN network, creating an open canvas for them to “paint” their own RAN masterpiece. This has been the goal of Open RAN from the beginning and represents one of many Open RAN initiatives that Dell has planned for the future. If Open RAN is in your future, we encourage you to reach out to us and schedule a proof of concept in our Open Telecommunications Ecosystem Lab (OTEL).

To learn more about Dell’s layer one inline accelerator card, view the press release announcement or read the solution brief.

About the Author: Sandro Tavares

Sandro joined Dell Technologies in January 2021, leading the team responsible for the marketing activities for the telecommunications market. He brings more than 20 years of international experience in the telecom industry, with most of these years spent at Nokia, where he has served in sales and marketing positions, working in Brazil, Argentina, Finland, and the U.S. His last role at Nokia was Head of Mobile Networks Marketing, a position in which he led a global team focused on developing the 5G market and promoting Nokia's solutions in this domain. Sandro is a sought-after industry speaker presenting such industry developments as NFV, Cloud, 5G, and Open RAN. He has also published opinion articles in several specialized media outlets. His technical interest topics include 5G, Open RAN, Cloud RAN, NFV, Data Center Infrastructure, and VoLTE/VoWiFi. In October 2020, Sandro was nominated a "Rising Star" by Fierce Wireless, a recognition for executives making a strong contribution to the wireless industry's development. Sandro holds a BSc degree in Electrical Engineering from Universidade de Brasilia and an Executive MBA from Fundacao Dom Cabral in Brazil.