2022 Predictions: Three Things to Watch in the Mobile Access Sector This Year

Ed Gubbins, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • In 2022, RAN vendors will increasingly focus on the energy efficiency of their solutions as a competitive differentiator.
  • Network management applications for Open RANs will multiply – developed by both incumbent RAN vendors and third-party developers.

The past two years have been anything but predictable, but the new year brings hope for a return to normalcy. In that spirit, here are a few predictions for what to expect in the RAN space in 2022:

Energy Efficiency an Increasing RAN Focus: This year, RAN vendors will increasingly focus on the energy efficiency of their solutions as a competitive differentiator – and for good reason. It’s an extremely important topic for operators, since RAN power represents a significant operating expense, especially amid the current deployment of Massive MIMO gear and the maintenance of parallel 4G/5G networks. We have already begun to see, in 2021, some vendors shift toward a heavier focus on this subject; Huawei promoted its Power Star 2.0 solution, featuring new ways for base stations to power down during low-traffic periods. ZTE highlighted piezoelectric ceramic fans to cool its Massive MIMO gear more efficiently. In 2022, look for vendors to explore more advanced ways of reducing unnecessary power consumption and more efficient ways of cooling equipment. Nokia, for example, has hinted at announcements around MWC 2022 related to its Liquid Cooling concept for radios, and Samsung has suggested it may introduce new RAN energy efficiency features as well.

RIC Apps Multiply, Diversify: The measured pace at which the Open RAN movement is developing will continue on a similarly modest trajectory in 2022 without a dramatic upswing in widespread deployment. But one aspect of it is likely to see increased activity this year: network management applications designed to operate within the RAN Intelligent Controller that orchestrates and optimizes Open RANs. Early apps are likely to come from incumbent major RAN vendors trying to kick-start the ecosystem, as we’ve begun to see. Ericsson has introduced non-real-time apps (“rApps”) for frequency layer management, centralized automatic neighbor relations and performance diagnostics. Nokia has announced real-time apps (“xApps”) for advanced traffic-steering and anomaly detection. But Open RAN proponents are hoping for third-party developers to play a bigger role here, too, and we’ve begun to see green shoots in that direction as well. Facebook developed xApps for telemetry that have been trialed by Deutsche Telekom. Infovista introduced an rApp for network planning automation and optimization. The more operators show interest in RICs and their apps, the more app developers will show up, and that activity should build visibly in 2022.

5G Advanced Ascends: Just as LTE rollouts gave rise to the next generation of that technology, LTE-Advanced, 5G is about to cede the stage to its successor, 5G-Advanced, which includes new capabilities and functions. The pace of this evolution is greatly influenced by industry standards that allow different vendors’ gear to interoperate. In early 2022, the 3GPP, the premier standards group focused on mobile network technology, will complete Release 17, the latest 5G standard. Once that’s done, work will ramp up on Release 18, the release focused on 5G-Advanced. Among other things, Release 18 is expected to focus significantly on artificial intelligence and machine learning, which could help optimize networks and relieve human operators of some of the burden of managing their increasing complexity. 5G-Advanced will also focus on energy efficiency, another reason why prediction number one, above, is a safe bet – not just for the near term but for years to come.



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