Ericsson Aims to Give Operators More vRAN Options with AMD, Dell Deals

Ed Gubbins, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

• Ericsson announced a deal to include Dell servers in its cloud RAN solution, giving operators more choice in virtual RAN sourcing.

• Ericsson also announced a collaboration with chip maker AMD aimed at improving vRAN performance.

Ericsson announced two partnerships last week to help diversify its virtual RAN offerings.

The vendor announced a move to include Dell PowerEdge servers as part of the Ericsson Cloud RAN offering – specifically the PowerEdge XR8000 and XR5610, which were designed to suit telecom, RAN, and mobile edge-computing workloads. Ericsson had announced HPE as a server supplier for its cloud RAN in 2021.

The same day, Ericsson announced plans to work with chip vendor AMD on cloud RAN, having previously promoted its inclusion of AMD competitor Intel’s silicon in its cloud RAN platform.

Both moves were touted as giving operators more choices and flexibility in their vRAN suppliers. The need for more diversity in the vRAN vendor landscape has been echoing for some time now, but much of the concern has been focused on the chip space – and in no small part on Intel’s dominance in the vRAN processing space thus far. That concern is exacerbated by the fact that the market is divided into two fundamentally different architectures for vRAN processing based on how much functionality is assigned to the processor itself and how much to a separate accelerator product (i.e., inline vs. look-aside architectures). Concern over ecosystem diversity is even more pronounced in the context of open vRAN, since a key driver of the open RAN movement has been the need to broaden the RAN vendor landscape to give operators the benefit of more competition among their suppliers.

In that context, Ericsson’s AMD news may be particularly relevant in addressing concerns about this ecosystem – especially in the wake of Ericsson’s heavy promotion of Intel vRAN chipsets at Mobile World Congress (MWC) earlier this year. In addition, AMD’s acquisition of chip maker Xilinx in 2022, estimated at around $50 billion, bolsters AMD’s prospects in this space, adding further gravity to the deal. Of the two announcements last week, however, the AMD release seemed less concrete and more future-oriented than the Dell news, with Ericsson calling the AMD deal not a commercial agreement to include AMD chips in its cloud RAN solution but a “technical partnership” in which the two vendors will “jointly explore processing technologies in Cloud RAN with the goal of enhancing performance and securing high-capacity solutions.”

At any rate, Ericsson isn’t the only major RAN vendor trying to offer operators more choices in the vRAN space. At this year’s MWC, Nokia unveiled its ‘anyRAN’ concept, which employs an array of partners – including hyperscalers, cloud players, and others – to provide operators and enterprises with a diverse set of vRAN hardware, cloud infrastructure, and data-center options.

Meanwhile, although a broader ecosystem will no doubt help the vRAN sector thrive, the main obstacle to its wider adoption hasn’t been the limited number of vendors in the space. The main obstacle has been the performance of vRAN for a given level of power consumption – especially in relatively demanding scenarios like massive MIMO sites, which are essential for 5G services. That performance-to-power ratio falls short of traditional RAN’s, forcing operators to use purpose-built accelerators to close the gap, and using purpose-built equipment contradicts the basic concept of vRAN’s value, which is based on the use of general-purpose servers.

It’s not for nothing that Ericsson’s AMD announcement – billed largely as a move to increase operator choice – specifically mentioned “enhancing performance” as another goal of the partnership. Could a broader vendor landscape in the vRAN space increase competition there, and could that increased competition lead to improved performance in vRAN technology overall? Enough improvement to make a difference? We may find out.

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