Intel chips in on Ericsson’s cloud RAN plan

Personnel at the Ericsson-Intel Tech Hub in Santa Clara, California

Personnel at the Ericsson-Intel Tech Hub in Santa Clara, California

  • Ericsson is ramping up its cloud RAN activity
  • It already has a number of network operator engagements
  • Now Intel is bolstering the Swedish vendor’s efforts with custom 5G system-on-chip components

Ericsson has enlisted the support of chip giant Intel as it ramps up its efforts to deliver optimised and energy-efficient cloud RAN systems. 

The vendor has struck a “strategic collaboration” with existing partner Intel to use the semiconductor vendor’s latest and most advanced semiconductor manufacturing process, dubbed 18A, which enables the production of increasingly energy-efficient chips.  

As part of the new agreement, Ericsson will source custom 5G system-on-chip (SoC) components that, the giant Swedish vendor claims, will enhance the network capacity, energy efficiency, flexibility and scalability of its cloud RAN technology. It’s unclear, though, when Intel will start delivering these SoC products as the 18A process is not due to go live until late 2024.

Specifically, Intel will manufacture fourth-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processors that integrate the chip vendor’s virtualised RAN (vRAN) Boost software, which eliminates the need for external accelerator cards and, thus, makes the architecture more compact and less power hungry. 

“Ericsson has a long history of close collaboration with Intel, and we are pleased to expand this further as we utilise Intel to manufacture our future custom 5G SoCs on their 18A process node, which is in line with Ericsson’s long-term strategy for a more resilient and sustainable supply chain,” stated Fredrik Jejdling, the equipment vendor’s head of networks. 

Sachin Katti, general manager of Intel’s network and edge group, stated that the deal “exemplifies our shared vision to innovate and transform network connectivity, and it reinforces the growing customer confidence in our process and manufacturing technology.”

Ericsson first announced its cloud RAN strategy in October 2020 and last year set up a cloud RAN tech hub in California with Intel.  

The announcement comes only weeks after Intel and Ericsson teamed up with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) for a demonstration of the Swedish vendor’s cloud RAN solution running on HPE ProLiant DL110 servers powered by Intel’s fourth-generation Xeon chips with vRAN Boost. “Virtualisation of the RAN is the next major transformation as we work to advance mobile networks into the future,” noted Dan Rodriguez, general manager of Intel’s network and edge solutions group. 

News of the deeper collaboration between Ericsson and Intel is just the latest in a series of announcements linked to the infrastructure vendor’s cloud RAN efforts. 

Last week, Telefónica Germany (aka O2 Telefónica) announced that a cloud RAN instance it had set up at its Wayra Innovation Hub in Munich in partnership with Ericsson, using an architecture with a centralised (virtual) unit and 26 GHz millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum, had achieved connectivity speeds of greater than 4 Gbit/s. “With cloud RAN, we combine the benefits of open interfaces with the expertise and product quality of European network equipment supplier Ericsson, whose technology we already use for our high-performance 5G core network,“ noted Mallik Rao, the operator’s chief technology and information officer. 

And earlier this month, Australia’s national operator Telstra announced it had deployed the vendor’s cloud RAN technology at seven sites in Queensland. The companies noted in this announcement that it enabled the operator “to take advantage of the dynamic scalability, increased flexibility, capacity and faster delivery of services that Ericsson’s cloud RAN infrastructure offers.”

Previously, Verizon announced late last year that it had started deploying Ericsson’s cloud RAN technology as part of its extensive vRAN deployment, much of which has been rolled out with Samsung

Such developments point to where mobile network architectures are, slowly but surely, heading as network operators increasingly adopt disaggregated architectures in their radio access networks: In cloud RAN deployments, the radio access network baseband is virtualised, enabling the distributed unit (DU) and centralised unit (CU) unit to be decoupled from the base station site and located at central or distributed locations, depending on network topology and the operator’s requirements. This provides greater flexibility and enables the more efficient, and potentially innovative, use of the compute resources on which the RAN functionality is running. 

Of course, Ericsson isn’t alone in taking this path and meeting operators’ virtualised RAN demands: As mentioned, Samsung is making inroads into the RAN equipment sector with its vRAN systems, while Ericsson’s main global rival, Nokia, has its own cloud RAN system and is engaging with telcos, such as A1 Group (Telekom Austria) and Deutsche Telekom, which is one of the operators taking the step beyond cloud RAN to adopt multivendor Open RAN systems. 

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV